Acclaimed director Kim Jee-woon (A Bittersweet Life, I Saw the Devil) returns to South Korea, following his Hollywood Arnie vehicle The Last Stand, for this a stunning, richly textured thriller set in the 1930s during Japan’s occupation of Korea. That ever-present star of Korean cinema Song Kang-ho (The Host, Thirst) plays an embittered police captain, Lee Jung-chool, charged with rooting out subversives for his Japanese masters. When local resistance leader Che-san (Lee Byung-hun) suspects Lee might be primed for turning, he tries to enlist him as a double-agent. What follows is a sprawling, suspenseful and serpentine action film that also resurfaces a painful and rarely rendered period of Korean history.
Anyone familiar with Kim’s previous works will unsurprised at the intricate brilliance of his action set pieces, including a breath-taking sequence aboard a train that recalls his earlier The Good the Bad and the Weird. Coming in the same year as The Handmaiden and Okja, Kim’s Age of Shadows represents a third homeland return for another of Korean cinema’s titans, along with Park chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho, all of whom met with varying degrees of success with their previous Hollywood-backed dalliances (The Last Stand, Stoker and Snowpiercer, respectively). As such it’s a pertinent reminder of the continuing power and potency of Korean film.