[box cover]

Shiri

The division between North and South Korea has lasted for decades, which makes the box-office success of 1999's Shiri — the highest-grossing film in Korean history — a bit of a surprise, as it directly addresss the country's political partition. Shiri even topped the Korean gross of the worldwide phenom Titanic, as roughly one-seventh of South Korea's population bought tickets. Like most art that achieves mass acceptance, Shiri is not particularly original or profound, but it does get the job done. The story concerns a well-trained North Korean female assassin named Hee, who has been terrorizing the South with her note-perfect executions. South Korean agents Ryu (Han Suk Kyu) and Lee (Song Kang-Ho) have been pursuing Hee for four years, but to no avail. As it looks like Hee has retired, Ryu plans to marry tropical-fish merchant Hyun (Kim Yun-Jin), but suddenly Hee is discovered trying to steal some CTX — an experimental explosive that looks like water, but is more deadly than any previously invented cinematic explosive. Hee always remains several moves ahead of Lee and Ryu, which causes the agents to suspect a leak, although they aren't sure how they could be heard. What they don't realize is that Hee had plastic surgery and has become Hyun, forcing Ryu to choose between love and duty. Part Jerry Bruckheimer, part John Woo, and part Costa-Gravas, Kang Je-Gyu's Shiri works like Titantic did by being all things to all people: For the females there's the doomed romance of Ryu and Hee, for the guys there's explosions and chases, and for those looking for a little something more there's the explicit commentary on the relationship between the North and the South (the title Shiri comes from a fish that can cross the border freely). Action remains at the forefront though, and director Je-Gyu is a competent craftsman, although his style borrows so heavily from both American and Hong Kong cinema that it could easily be mistaken for another Hollywood production — a fact as damning as it is impressive, considering the budget limitations (the movie was made for a mere $5 million), and unfortunately this familiarity drains the freshness from the more original aspects of the story. Shiri may prove more influential than enjoyable, as the movie has revitalized the Korean film industry, and perhaps serving as a gateway for a future generation of Korean filmmakers. Columbia TriStar's DVD release presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with the original Korean soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1 (other options include English and French 5.1 dubs, as well as English subtitles). Extras include trailers for this film and two bonus trailers, a music video, and the hour-long documentary "The Making of Shiri" in Korean with English subtitles. Keep-case.
—DSH



Back to Quick Reviews Index: [A-F] [G-L] [M-R] [S-Z]

Back to Main Page