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    The schlock is ticking

    "Shiri" — a massive hit in South Korea — starts as an intense political and psychological thriller but is sabotaged by ticking time bombs and other Hollywood-action cliches.


    Whew! The Koreans have learned all about chases and explosions and blood-spattered walls and ticking time bombs from Hollywood. Now the question is, will they use these powers for good or evil?

    Written and directed by: Kang Je-gyu.
    Cast: Han Suk-kyu, Choi Min-sik, Kim Yun-jin, Song Kang-ho, Derek Kim..
    In Korean with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    Or maybe both? There were three Korean films, all as yet unreleased in the U.S., on my top 10 list last year, showing that at their best, Korean filmmakers are combining world-class technical ability with original stories that pack an emotional and often political punch.

    On the other hand, "Shiri" — a record-setting hit in its own country — imitates Hollywood's worst nature. The filmmakers squandered strong characterizations and a compelling premise to produce just another two hours of good guys chasing bad guys and things blowing up.

    The story goes that an elite group of North Korean commandos have infiltrated the south and outsmarted South Korean intelligence at every turn. Their sexy but lethal female commander (Yoon-jin Kim) is a legend to the South Koreans, but she eludes them repeatedly while striking at prize targets all over Seoul.

    The cat-and-mouse game that follows has the potential to make an exciting political thriller, but the story takes a number of wrong turns that confuse the audience and strain credibility. A pivotal chase scene midway through is notable for its striking film style — choppy, handheld-camera shots give us the impression of running right alongside the combatants — but then things go all wrong as a bad guy who was just surrounded by cops on the brightly lit street abruptly pops up in a dark basement to commit a nefarious deed. I can only imagine he was beamed up at the last second.

    From there, the movie devolves into a hokey and confused struggle over a brand-new mystery weapon — an exploding bottle of water, more or less, which conveniently has a digital timer attached so that we'll know when time is running out for our heroes. The ensuing battle becomes increasingly laughable with the evildoers trying to sabotage a meeting of the North and South Korean leaders as the two countries edge toward reunification.

    Politics is about as important to "Shiri" as it is to James Bond — that is, almost not at all. The supercharged North-South conflict is used merely to give a standard good-guy-bad-guy plot a sheen of greater significance that it hasn't earned.

    So it's worth looking at the movie's very strong beginning to see what was going right and where it fell apart — the elements that work best are the intrigue of an underground commando cell that authorities cannot flush out, and the characters' personal psychological dramas. If the story had stayed a little bit smaller, without laughable superweapons and grandiose terror schemes, it could have been an intense and intelligent political thriller with an impact somewhere between "La Femme Nikita" and "The Manchurian Candidate." But ultimately, "Shiri" becomes a logical mess and a predictable formula film in the best Hollywood tradition.

    FEBRUARY 8, 2002

    Reader comments on Shiri:

  • Thank you   from Noah, Apr 15, 2002
  • SHIRI = GREAT MOVIE   from EDUARDO QUIOC III, Apr 15, 2002
  • Re: SHIRI = GREAT MOVIE   from Johanna, Jul 12, 2002
  • Re: SHIRI = GREAT MOVIE   from Nick, Jan 13, 2004
  • Shiri   from Eric2nice, Jul 16, 2002
  • Re: Shiri   from Jester, Sep 23, 2002
  • Shiri was fantastic   from 555R, Jan 11, 2003
  • korean movie   from Alice joh, Feb 14, 2003
  • Re: korean movie   from ryan, Dec 1, 2003
  • Re: korean movie   from Nick, Jan 13, 2004
  • Shiri rocks!   from Cecelia, Feb 15, 2003
  • I love Shiri   from Tana, Mar 8, 2003
  • SHIRI ROCKS   from eugene, Mar 17, 2003
  • Action korean movie   from alice joh, Apr 22, 2003
  • Shiri - one hell of an interesting movie   from Surfrover, Jun 29, 2003
  • Great movie.   from Nick, Jan 13, 2004
  • shiri is so beautiful.................   from sailorcristel, Aug 15, 2005
  • shiri...shocking   from MJJ, Mar 28, 2006

  • Post a comment on "Shiri"