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cast: Han Suk-kyu, Choi Min-sik, Song Kang-ho, and Kim Yun-jin

writer and director: Kang Je-gyu

121 minutes (18) 1999
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to buy on video

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
Billed as Korea's highest grossing box office success, Shiri (aka: Swiri) arrives in Britain as a DVD premiere. Basically, it's a stylish action thriller about terrorism, assassination and counterespionage, with a sketched-in background concerning the fast-burning fuse of political tensions between the communist North, and democratic South, Korean nations. National security agents Ryu (Han Suk-kyu) and Lee (Song Kang-ho) investigate a series of murders by female super-spy Hee, but are unable to catch her. Then the ultra-sinister Park (Choi Min-sik) arrives in South Korea, bringing his strike team of thieves and bombers, who steal a deadly chemical weapon and plan to use its power to enforce political unification on the Korean peninsula. Ryu fears that his girlfriend Hyun (Kim Yun-jin) may become the killers' next target, but she has a dark secret of her own...
   Hollywood influences abound and, at times, weigh a little too heavily on this Asian production. The likes of Die Hard (1988), Heat (1995), The Rock (1996), G.I. Jane (1997) and The Assassin (aka: The Point Of No Return, 1993 - the US remake of Luc Besson's Nikita, 1990) are among the mainstream films plundered for stylistic touches and plot elements. This definitely makes Shiri exportable material, but also dilutes any genuine mystique its foreign nature may have given it. Shiri is almost like a pastiche of glossy Bruckheimer blockbuster or Joel Silver actioner that's now a multiplex staple. Yet, with an assured 'stillness' in its character-building scenes, and a mood that's often contemplative rather than exciting, the film repays second and third viewings, and is nonetheless great entertainment as an above average shoot 'em up drama, despite its wholly derivative content.
   The title refers to a breed of river fish that (obviously) have no respect for national borders - though, as a metaphor for anti-political ideology, it's hardly an important aspect of this decidedly conventional offering.
   The DVD has a great anamorphic transfer with Dolby digital 5.1 or 2.0 options for Korean sound with English subtitles but (unfortunately) no English dub. Disc extras: The Making Of Shiri documentary (55 minutes) is somewhat difficult to follow because its English subtitles are limited to interview clips, and the actual film quality (TV newsreel footage, in particular) is rather poor at times. There's also stars and director filmographies, film notes by Mark Wyatt, a music video for When I Dream (the film's theme song), two trailers, plus a set of trailers for other Asian films available soon via Tartan label.
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