Shiri

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Shiri

A bigger hit than Titanic in its native South Korea, Shiri alternates intense action with romantic melodrama and none-too-subtle political commentary. It's a domestic product made from imported blueprints, employing to great effect a formula made in Hong Kong. It's also as deeply considered a film about the current situation in the Koreas as the presence of a sexy female assassin will allow. Writer-director Kang Je-gyu opens with a bang—many bangs, in fact—as he follows the bloody training program of an elite, hard-line branch of the North Korean military, one in which blood is shed, heads are severed, and many beer bottles are shot. Flashing forward several years, Kang shifts to two South Korean intelligence officers (Han Suk-Kyu and Song Kang-Ho), who are tracking one of the program's proudest graduates, a woman who seems to be connected to a nefarious terrorist plot in spite of the cooling relations between the North and the South. As the two square off against the elusive, faceless killer, Kang punctuates their search with bursts of deftly executed action. In this capacity, he immediately establishes himself as more than a quick study. While he never quite matches the visceral punch of Shiri's opening sequence, his best attempts come close enough, and between explosions, Kang never loses sight of his loftier aims. Even as the film grows increasingly dependent on action-movie staples both Eastern and Western (races against time, three-way standoffs, an extremely movie-friendly secret weapon), the larger issues faced by North and South Korea loom above all. Kang even lets a villain speak his mind, and his claims regarding South Korea's decadence are hardly undermined by the film's portrayal of a Seoul overrun by Western corporations. By the time a long-expected shootout erupts in a prominently featured aquarium shop that's also one source of a potent symbol for a divided Korea, Shiri has revealed itself as an oddly effective mixture of technical prowess, well-executed cliché, and unexpected political poignancy.