ESCAPE (탈주) (2024)

Genre: Action/Thriller
Director: Lee Jong-pil
Cast: Lee Je-Hoon, Koo Kyo-Hwan, Hong Xa-Bin
Runtime: 1 hr 34 mins
Rating: NC16 (Some Violence & Mature References)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 11 July 2024

Synopsis: In a military camp near DMZ of a divided land, Sergeant Kyu-nam has been planning to escape the North, land of repression, to head to the South, land of freedom. But he gets caught while trying to help another deserter. At risk of execution, Kyu-nam starts the chase for freedom.

Movie Review:

There is something queer about this action thriller, and it is not the plot which sees a North Korean soldier dreaming of a life with better possibilities across the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). Movies like Steel Rain (2017), The Spy Gone North (2018) and Hunt (2022) have explored the tension between South Korea and North Korea, as well as the sentiments of the people from both countries.

Hence, Lee Jong-pil’s movie about a man who is doing all he can to escape from North Korea to South Korea isn’t something new. Instead, it is the character of the antagonist, a North Korean State Security officer, that is oddly fascinating – because the story written by Kwon Seong-hwi and Kim Woo-geun suggests that he had a secret romantic relationship with another man. How does this underlying tone work for a movie that is marketed as an action blockbuster?

Sergeant Lim Gyu-nam, portrayed by Lee Je-Hoon (Time To Hunt), is the protagonist of the movie. He has been meticulously planning his escape, only to be discovered by fellow soldier played by Hong Xa-bin (Hopeless). The two men eventually get arrested but when Major Li Hyeon-sang, portayed intriguingly by Koo Kyo-hwan (Escape from Mogadishu) enters the scene, Gyu-nam is transformed into a hero for his valiance to prevent a deserter from escaping. It turns out that Gyu-nam and Hyeon-sang are childhood friends.

When we first see Hyeon-sang, we sense that this character has a thing for the finer things in life. He uses lip balm (who would have thought tough men in the North Korean military would have time for self care?), and in a later scene, he delivers a magnificent performance on the piano. It turns out that he was lauded at international piano competitions, and has someone in his phone whose name is saved as “The Bastard That I Loved”. Of course, there are also the glances he exchanges with a party guest played by popular TV actor Song Kang.

Did we digress? Isn’t this 94 minute movie about Gyu-nam, who launches a full scale escape after he seizes the opportunity when Hyeon-sang promotes him to a higher rank in the force? Lee takes on the role with conviction, and we are fully committed to his escape throughout the duration of the movie. We see the poor guy run across fields, dodge bullets, get trapped in a quicksand mud, and fighting till his very last breath so he can make it across the border. If this writer was in Gyu-nam’s shoes, he would have given up before Hyeon-sang takes it upon himself to make sure the escape doesn’t succeed.

There is also an interesting exchange between the two men where they talk about whether life in South Korea will really be better, and the price to pay to take that plunge. It is also at this juncture we wonder whether Hyeon-sang would have grabbed the chance to live a different life, and it’s especially captivating to consider this from a queer character’s perspective. The movie also has a satisfying conclusion where we are reminded of Gyu-nam and Hyeon-sang’s poignant friendship.

Movie Rating:

(This movie about a man who dreams of a life beyond North Korea has he right dose of drama and action - it also explores an interesting viewpoint from a queer character's perspective)

Review by John Li


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