Release Year: 1999
Directed by: Je-gyu Kang
Length: 125 minutes
Genre keywords: Action
, Korean Unification
Suk-kyu Han .... Yu, JongWon
Min-sik Choi .... Park, Mu-young
Yoon-jin Kim .... Lee, Myung-hyun (Lee, Bang-hee)
Kang-ho Song .... Lee, Jang-gil
Johnny Kim .... Jung, Dae-Ho (as Derek Kim)
A shiri is a type of freshwater fish indigenous to the waters of the DMZ between South and North Korea; it doesn't know of the manmade borders, and lives in blissful ignorance of the struggles going on around it. Well, ideologically speaking anyway. I'm sure the occasional fish gets torn apart by anti-personnel mine shrapnel ... but I digress.
I didn't know this when I picked up the movie, and a good thing; I'd much rather the exotic sounding word pertained to the deadly beauty on the cover than rent a movie called "Flounder" or "Carp". As it turns out in the film, of course it does ...
The film is an action suspense/thriller in the vein of The Day of the Jackal, telling a story of an NK assassin planted in South Korea, and stirred to action after many years of dormancy. Add in hints of the assassin's "normal" life during that period, throw in a rogue unit out of North Korea intent on mayhem, and offer a juicy target: a peace summit, a gesture of goodwill between the two estranged countries. Top it off with a couple of tough cops bent on tracking down the assassin, unaware of the threat being far, far closer than either of them thinks, and you have the film. As fun rides go, Shiri keeps the pacing steady, not really easing up throughout the duration.
Production-wise, Shiri is solid throughout. It's not overdone with either melodrama, excessive gunplay or the excessive slo-mo with which, and the characters are portrayed very well, with the spice of the main players' personal lives being done just right. The only exception is perhaps the leader of the rogue unit, Park; but then, larger than life villains aren't necessarily bad.
Is Shiri exceptional? Perhaps not; however, it's a very competent and balanced action flick in a genre that frequently tilts one way (too many explosions/bullets) or another (lacks suspense) or another (cliche plot). As such, it's well worth watching. This is also the movie that got me interested in Korean cinema in the first place; as such, I would recommend it to similarly inexperienced viewers, as well as those already familiar with Joint Security Area, the "other" well known Korean offering.