Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Antique Guy

Please note the review below may contain minor spoilers - I've done my best to keep them to a minimum.

After dazzling film audiences at festivals worldwide last year, Korean director Jee-woon Kimís spy thriller, The Age of Shadows finally makes it way westward - so was it worth the wait?

Itís 1929 in a Japan-occupied Korea - Seoul to be exact - with its citizenry slowly being squashed underfoot for the past three decades and the Japanese government taking over all facets of Korean daily life, relegating them to mere second class citizens - some though are fighting back.

In the dead of night, two resistance fighters attempt to pawn off an antique to a broker - in the hopes of creating funding for their cause - little do they know theyíre surrounded. The tip of that spear is Lee Jung-Chool (Kang-ho Song) a police chief who kowtowed to the Japanese - and sold out his Korean brothers - for the prominent position he now finds himself in many moons ago.

With the two resistance fighters dead - one of them being an old friend of Lee - the only lead he finds himself with is the antique statue they were trying to push, which points him in the direction of local antiquities dealer Kim Woo-Jin (Yoo Gong).

Leeís intuition is correct, however the resistance led by Jung Chae-San (Byung-hun Lee) are playing welcoming hosts, sensing they can flip the turncoat and use Lee to successfully accomplish their next deadly mission.

British and American spy thrillers are a dime a dozen, a Korean-centric one though is something entirely new, and in the case of The Age of Shadows, entirely special. It comes as no surprise then - as those final credits roll - the plethora of awards the film has managed to capture, including a coveted foreign Oscar nomination.

Korean writer and director Jee-woon Kim has already had quite the diversive career in the medium, from capturing audiences attention in 2010ís I Saw the Devil, making them laugh with The Good the Bad the Weird and even dipping his toes into the western pond in the 2013 Schwarzenegger-led action fare, The Last Stand.

But among all of those past glories, The Age of Shadows stands out, not only for its enthralling cat-and-mouse narrative, but in managing to depict the era with a distinct beauty, of a time when Koreaís native sensibilities began to blend with the west - metamorphosing into some truly wondrous scenes - that evoke Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Raid and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy all within a single frame.

The cinematography within The Age of Shadows likewise should get a special mention, of being able to use that beautifully crafted scenery to consistently keep you engaged, creating interesting, visual storytelling over the core of a complex, psychological plot that some may have a little trouble keeping abreast of.

The Age of Shadows (Kang-ho Song, Yoo Gong, Byung-hun Lee, Ji-min Han, Hee-soon Park, Seong-rok Sin, Foster Burden and Shingo Tsurumi)

Depicting, and then following along in the art of spycraft within a film is troubling at the best of times, throw in an entirely different culture and subtitles to boot, and youíve got yourself a recipe for a two hour concentration session.

And itís not just with the thrilling script in The Age of Shadows, of back and forth spy games that will have you constantly guessing - of where allegiances truly lie - but in the meandering of plot that consistently leaves the protagonist - if indeed you can figure out whom that may be, with a multitude of characters all eliciting screen time - into what feel like whole strands of a new movie.

A western film maker may have concentrated on a single element, dressed it up in a bow tie and called it a day, The Age of Shadows pushes that envelope far more, feeling at times a touch biographical through its in-depth nature - the roots of its true events shining through.

Itís a little sad then that for everything The Age of Shadows does brilliantly - and itís hard to find a fault with the film - its home DVD release falls victim to that feature curse, with the home release marred by a lack of any special features. Whilst a cast or directorís commentary may have been a little difficult considering the foreign nature; delving more into the characters, the true story behind them, the era they find themselves and the tumultuous politics at play would have been a joy to unravel.

Alas, The Age of Shadows joins the home entertainment release aisle with no reason to purchase it over the ease of streaming, truly it deserves better.

If you love the art of spycraft then The Age of Shadows should jump right to the top of your list of mustwatch films. A psychological cat-and-mouse thriller, set to the backdrop of some of the most beautiful imagery youíll see all year with a script that will constantly keep you guessing.

The only drawback from the film is with its DVD home release, the lack of special features may put off some, but as a film Iíd wholeheartedly recommend picking up The Age of Shadows whether thats streaming or physical.

A DVD review copy of The Age of Shadows was provided by the distributor for review purposes.

  • Review by
    David Robinson

    Twitter: @5ypher

    Posted on
    10th July 2017

  • 4 Out of 5 Stars
  • No special features

  • Thrilling story



    Directing is on point

Film Info

The Age of Shadows The Age of Shadows
Rating: 15
Release Date: 10th July
Runtime: 2 hr 20 min
Director: Jee-woon Kim
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Yoo Gong, Byung-hun Lee, Ji-min Han, Hee-soon Park, Seong-rok Sin, Foster Burden & Shingo Tsurumi

  • Anthropoid
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • Allied

No, there's multiple scenes of murder, torture and gore aplenty.

The first production of Warner Brothers Korea.

The Japanese occupation of Korea ended in 1945, during World War II.

At the time of writing, The Age of Shadows currently sits at a 100% rating on Rottem Tomatoes.