Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Age of Shadows (orig. Mil-jeong) [2016]

MPAA (UR would be R) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B+) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars) 

IMDb listing listing*
AsianWiki listing

Chosun Llbo review*
Dong A Llbo review*

Variety (J. Weissberg) review 
The Hollywood Reporter (D. Young) review (B. Tallerico) review 
AV Club (I. Vishnevetsky) review

The Age of Shadows (orig. Mil Jeong [2016] [IMDb] [AW] [Nvkr]*(written and directed by Jee-woon Kim [IMDb] [AW] [Nvkr]* is a movie that should be(come) required viewing for a fair number of World War II history buffs.  Why?  Because it certainly offers a fascinating (and indigenous Korean) view into the War (actually into the set-up of the War, even pre-Manchuria) in the Pacific.  The film reminds us that future War in the Pacific actually began arguably BEFORE the beginning of even World War I with the 1910 Japanese Occupation of Korea.

Set largely in Japanese-occupied Seoul of the 1920s, the film portrays a city of Casablanca [1942]-esque intrigue where, yes, under pressure (often by torture) Resistance leaders (as captured) could sometimes be broken and at other times be bought, but where the Japanese occupiers found even the loyalties of even their Collaborators could never be really trusted.  Taking a phrase from The Big Lebowski [1998] among the occupied Koreans "Everybody was in bed with everybody else," that is to say that the loyalties / connections between them were so "complex" / "opaque" to outsiders that the occupying Japanese could _never really know_ what was really going on "below them."   

And so it was, the film begins with a Korean resistance fighter cornered by Korean collaborating police official named Lee Jung-Chool (played by Kang-ho Song [IMDb] [AW] [Nvkr]*) and "supported" by a force of  several hundred Japanese soldiers.  The orders were to take him peacefully.  BUT ... neither the Korean resistance fighter, nor the several hundred Japanese soldiers seem to want to go down that path.  The Korean resistance fighter was willing to die a martyr's death, and the several hundred Japanese soldiers dozens jumping, in formation, from roof top to roof top as they chased him, were more than willing to oblige him.  ONLY the Korean collaborating police official seemed to want to keep him alive.  THE QUESTION BECOMES ... WHY?  Right from the start, it does not seem that his reason was simply "to bring him in" (so that he could be tortured by the Japanese to betray the rest of his group).  Neither did it seem realistic that Lee Jung-Chool was a disguised Korean patriot who had infiltrated of the Japanese security system.  Instead, probably the best explanation for his _choice_ to try to "follow orders" here WAS TO KEEP THAT KOREAN RESISTANCE FIGHTER ALIVE ... that is to say, NOT WANTING TO SEE _ANOTHER_ GOOD KOREAN SOUL "DIE FOR HIS COUNTRY."

That's a good part of the insight / complexity of the film: even the "Collaborators" were were not (all) necessarily Evil.  To some extent, perhaps even a good extent, they were "patriots of a different sort" ... seeing that confronting Japan _openly_ was "a lost cause."  Instead, there were folks like this both objectively and nominally collaborating police official, trying keep the few brave(r) Koreans _alive_ to, in effect, _outlast_ the Japanese occupation.

MY FAMILY CAME FROM A "SMALL (often occupied) COUNTRY" AS WELL -- the Czech part of Czechoslovakia.  I totally get this reasoning ... [1] [2] [3] [4]

But, of course, there _wasn't_ just a "huddling mass" of Koreans in Seoul at the time, just trying to "outlast the occupation" (which _no one_ at the time could have known would ever end, much less, in their lifetimes).  There were  _the brave ones_ who did try to more openly resist.  And the film is about this Korean collaborating police official being tasked by his Japanese overlords, and more specifically by his Japanese Superior named Hashimoto (played by Tae-Goo Um [IMDb] [AW] [Nvkr]*), to penetrate a cell of this Resistance.  Okay, he's tasked to do this.  But after penetrating this group of young, idealistic Korean patriots, could he really turn them in?   But then that was his job and if he did so, he himself stood _to pay_ for his regained moral stance.  How then to navigate this labyrinth of awful options?

Dear Readers, you should be getting the picture ...

It all makes for an excellent if perhaps, at times, slow moving _ASIAN_ film about "life under World War II-era occupation."

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