The Age of Shadows is a Korean spy thriller set in the Japanese occupied Korea of the late 1920s. It follows a Korean member of the Japanese police who was previously a part of the Korean independence movement, and current members of that same movement. There are specifics here, but the broad strokes are of the plucky resistance vs the evil empire. This is stylish pulp action, and it’s great.
We only get hints of the past this movie is building on, but that’s all we get, hints. Which is key to the intrigue built around this police officer caught between opposing forces. The movie can’t show us his past because it would inform us to greatly about his intentions and motivations. What’s important is where he is now, what we see him experience and how it effects him. A man who describes his home country as a sunken ship that he’s abandoned at the start of the film.
This is a movie that explores its characters through their actions more than anything else. Words are powerful and important, but they’re tools of deception and manipulation. The stakes are high and small moments make all the difference.
The highlight of the movie are the set piece moments it has that are just phenomenal. The movie begins with a really good one, as a member of the resistance is betrayed and surrounded by armed soldiers in a small town. The image of soldiers sneaking around on rooftops in the trailer just dug itself into my brain, it drew me into the movie and it’s still stilling there. It’s so good that for much of the movie I was a little disappointed by the turn to more intimate conversational spy shit; not that that stuff is bad, but the movie is at its strongest when it does go for spectacle. Luckily though, the movie does come back around to deliver some more ambitious moments that I really love.
I should also mention that there’s violence and some rough torture stuff here. Stuff that brought me to attention. I think the movie goes a little too far with one character honestly, but other than that I think that stuff is done well. There’s one thing in particular that the movie goes all the way with that I really love. (For reference it has to do with the end of that opening sequence) It sure is memorable at least.
This is a great film. It’s a very solid spy thriller that sets itself apart with some spectacular moments that elevate the whole experience.