Director: Ryoo Seung-Wan
Cast: Kim Yun-Seok, Zo In-Sung, Heo Jun-Ho, Jeong Man-Sik, Kim Jae-Hwa, Park Kyung-Hye, Koo Gyo-Hwan
Runtime: 2 hrs 1 min
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 12 August 2021
Synopsis: Han Shin-Sung (Kim Yun-Seok) works as an ambassador at the South Korean Embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia. A civil war breaks out in the country. Han Shin-Sung, his wife, and embassy officials are trapped in the embassy building. Meanwhile, Kang Dae-Jin (Zo In-Sung) works as a councillor at the North Korean Embassy in Mogadishu. The North Korean Embassy experiences the same threat of violence as the South Korean Embassy. Han Shin-Sung and Kang Dae-Jin work together to get people from both embassies out of Somalia.
There’s never a dull moment in Korean cinema it seems. Gone are the days when their offering is either a straight-out horror or a weepy romance. In recent times, their releases even surpasses the variety of Hollywood. You name it, they have it.
Following Hollywood’s trend of adapting true-life events to the big screen, Ryoo Seung Wan’s Escape From Mogadishu is set in the midst of a Somali civil war in 1990 where a group of diplomats from both the North and South must unite together to escape the turmoil.
In order to realize his vision, Ryoo (The Battleship Island) has to rely on a memoir written by a Somalia’s TV executive and information from the US embassy. Given Ryoo’s track record of directing box-office hits, the truth seems secondary as he is about to bring audiences on a rough and tumble ride along the streets of Somalia or should we say it’s stand-in, Morocco.
The movie starts with South Korean Ambassador Han (Kim Yoon-seok) and his assistant, Secretary Gong (Jung Man-sik) being sabotaged by their North Korea’s counterparts, Ambassador Rim (Heo Joon-ho) and his lackey, Tae (Koo Kyo-hwan) while on the way to meet President Barre of Somalia. Back in the days, in order to secure enough votes to join the UN, both sides of Korea has to get into the good books of Africa to pull in the votes.
What followed shortly was General Aidid invasion of Mogadishu which threw the entire country into chaos and violence. It’s simply a question of becoming his friend or foe. With communication lines cut off, Ambassador Han is unable to contact the higher authorities for help. He runs a tight ship with just a skeleton crew of six including his wife and a military trained counsellor Kang (Jo In-sung) at the embassy. With rebels closing in, he has no choice but to engage the local police force to protect them. However, cash is running low and the police only works if they are paid. Ambassador Rim on the other hand is rendered homeless when a group of rebels stormed their embassy. With a group of workers and small children under him, Rim has no choice but to seek shelter from Han much to the disgust of Tae.
Escape From Mogadishu is a solid movie that respects history and never for a second, exploit the atrocities and killings. The message right here is humanity. Do you want to save human lives or turn your back against them simply because they don’t share the same political beliefs? Ambassador Han and the fiery-tempered Kang not surprisingly thinks more along the line of the former. With supplies running out, Han and Rim must put their differences aside and plan their escape plan. Han will seek help from the Italians while Rim will approach the Egyptian embassy.
The story has a nice, tender moment where the two parties had dinner at a long table. Finally, the people from the South and North sitting opposite each other. The North hesitating if their food is poisoned and that’s when Han switches bowl with Rim and stuffed his mouth with a huge scope of rice. A powerful moment that showcases the tragic outcome of two countries after an unspeakable war. What if they just cooperate and live in peace?
Perhaps this is what Director Ryoo is trying to pinpoint while telling a story of humanity, dignity and survival. It must also be said that everything in the movie works almost too perfect even the finale which involved a daring car chase is well executed without being too frenetic.
Ryoo has largely steered clear of sentimentality and he succeeds in churning out a tale of against-all-odds. Veterans Kim Yoon-seok and Heo Joon-ho easily capture our attention every step of the way while Jo In-sung plays his character with much aplomb. The political and diplomatic undertones might be heavy for some but the passionate account of the goodness of mankind is well told in this handsomely made movie.
(Escape From Mogadishu will set your heart pounding from start to end)
Review by Linus Tee