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'The Age of Shadows' TIFF 2016 Review: Stylishly crafted spy drama recounts a dark time in Korea's history

September 16, 2016Ben MK

The Age of Shadows may have the distinction of being just the latest in a long line of South Korean films set during the Japanese colonial occupation of the country. However, it may also be the most culturally and emotionally resonant, marrying stylish thrills, period character drama and political intrigue to deliver a compelling account of one of the darkest periods in the nation's history.

Written and directed by Jee-woon Kim and set during the 1920s, the movie stars Snowpiercer's Kang-ho Song as Police Captain Lee Jung-Chool, a former translator for the Korean Resistance, who now works for the Japanese regime. Branded a traitor by his former compatriots, Captain Lee finds his true allegiances tested when he's approached by Resistance leader Che-San (G.I. Joe: Retaliation's Byung-hun Lee), who seeks to turn him back into a Resistance operative, beginning by enlisting his help to assist Resistance members Kim Woo-Jin (Train to Busan's Yoo Gong) and Yun Gye-Soon (Ji-min Han) in smuggling a shipment of explosives from Shanghai to Seoul.

Things take a turn for the messy, however, when Lee's bloodthirsty partner, Hashimoto (Tae-Goo Um), gets in the way, resulting in one of the film's most superlatively staged action sequences. That being said, if you're expecting a smorgasbord of action set-pieces (à la Kim's gloriously over-the-top 2008 western, The Good, the Bad, the Weird), you might want to brace for some disappointment. Still, what The Age of Shadows lacks in pulse-pounding excitement, it more than makes up for with its gorgeous production design and artful, suspenseful mood.

The Age of Shadows is receiving its North American premiere as part of TIFF 2016's Special Presentations programme. Its runtime is 2 Hrs. 19 Min.

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