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4.1 out of 5 stars24
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 4 August 2006
After many years of watching 'World Cinema' it is films like this that make you realise why Western cinema feels so hollow.

In many ways, this could be seen as an Eastern take on stereotypical Hollywood blockbuster, or a Michael Mann film, yet it excels over its original inspiration.

One thing Korean films have in abundance is emotion, films driven by heart, and this film is no exception. I was expecting this to be something similar to a Hollywood blockboster so had been procrastinating for quite a while before seeing it and I was pleasantly surprised by the film. I was utterly compelled throughout and it builds to a very emotional climax towards the end. A beautiful and remarkable film that crosses many genres like to Old Boy or Save The Green Planet.

Granted, there are a few clichéd generic action film moments (the countdown to an exploding bomb being a very guilty example) but, in short, if you want a film that is as full of emotion as it is action, then I can thoroughly recommend this.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 March 2014
This 1999 South Korean action film is a quite watchable thing, although ultimately not as good as I hoped for. Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.

In October 1992, an elite group of North Korean soldiers are put through a brutal training regime. Under the auspices of their commander, Park Mu-young (Choi Min-sik), they will be sent into South Korea as sleeper agents, to be reactivated at some later date. The most promising of the group is "Lee Bang-hee" (this is the code name she uses), an extremely gifted female sniper - once infiltrated to south she assassinates several key South Korean figures over the next six years. And then she suddenly stops all activity and vanishes. This all figures in the introduction.

The film begins in fact with two South Korean counter-intelligence officers, Yu Jong-won (Han Suk-kyu) and Lee Jang-gil (Song Kang-ho), making a point about their fruitless investigation and their failure to find any concrete, hard data about "Lee Bang-hee" - including how she looks and what is her real name... Yu and Lee, as well as their superiors, strongly suspect that this interruption in "Lee Bang-hee" activity simply indicates that North Koreans are up to something REALLY big... I will say no more about the story.

This film is actually inspired by real events, namely the little known in the West but absolutely merciless secret war North Korean nightmarish regime waged and still wages today against its Southern democratic neighbour. Some of the most notorious incidents are worth mentioning:

- on 21 January 1968 North Korean commando infiltrators attacked the Blue House, the residence of South Korean presidents trying to assassinate the president Park Chung-hee; the 31 members of the commando trained for this mission during two years! They didn't succeed and 28 were killed in fighting - one more committed suicide, one was captured alive and one managed most probably to escape back to North Korea. In successive firefights South Korean army and police lost 26 men killed - US Army lost further 4.

- on 9 October 1983 three North Korean secret agents planted a bomb at a mausoleum in Rangun (Burma) where South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan was expected to depose flowers during an official visit; because he was delayed in the traffic, he was not hurt - but the explosion killed 21 other people including South Korea deputy Prime Minister Suh Suk Jun, minister of foreign affairs Lee Beom-seok, minister for commerce and industry Kim Dong Whie, minister for power resources Suh Sang-chul, presidential chief of staff Ham Byeong-chun, as well as South Korean ambassador to Burma and three vice-ministers

- on 29 November 1987 Korean Air Boeing 707 (Flight 858 from Baghdad to Seoul) was destroyed by the explosion of a bomb smuggled on board by two North Korean agents, including a highly trained female operative, Kim Hyon Hui; all 115 people on board died.

- 18 September-5 November 1996. After a group of 25 heavily armed North Korean commando infiltrators were landed in the south by a submarine a manhunt was launched by South Korean army, which lasted 49 days. 13 infiltrators were killed in fighting, 11 died in a mass murder-suicide once cornered and one was taken alive. South Korean army lost 8 soldiers in fighting (and 4 more in an accident). During the manhunt the infiltrators also murdered four southern civilians.

- possibly as retaliation for the interception of this group of infiltrators, on 1 October 1996 Choe Deok-geun, a South Korean consular agent to Vladivostok (Russia) was ambushed and murdered by North Korean agents

- 17 December 1998 - a North Korean midget submarine was intercepted by South Korean navy when landing a group of commando infiltrators in the south; in the ensuing battle the ship was sunk and all infiltrators killed

Coming back to the film, well, it is not bad. The plot is honest, characters are rather well developed, there are some interesting twists and surprises, most action scenes are OK and especially there is NO idiotic kung fu (or in this case taekwondo) which so horribly hurts many Asiatic films.

The training of North Korean commandos and their quite impressive performance in fight are quite impressive – as is also the presentation of how ruthless and sadistically brutal is North Korean war machine (the training includes the use of political prisoners as living targets and it is very probably a TRUE STORY!).

On another hand this film is quite predictable – we guess quickly who is the main opponent of two heroes and it is quite possible to guess then what will ultimately happen to the whole film.

I also absolutely hated the idea that the whole great evil plot is supposedly not the work of North Korean government but of some "extremists" inside North Korean armed forces, who try to prevent northern regime to make peace with the south(!). Considering the murderous record of North Korean government both against its southern neighbours and its own population this kind of precautions always infuriated me!

This is definitely not a masterpiece but a watchable action film, refreshingly different from Hollywoodian action movies, which even if sometimes honest, are also annoyingly always the same. This exotic treat is therefore worth seeing – but in principle once.
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on 3 November 2003
The basic storyline is that two of South Korea's top agents get wind of a plot involving an arms dealer and a known North Korean assassin. The investigate and quickly find out that a top secret explosive is involved. From then on it's a race against the clock to stop whatever plans the North Koreans have hatched.
There's romance in the form of the story of one of the agent's up coming marriage to a fish shop owner. The end is extremely touching and I was close to tears myself (quite an admission coming from a man).
The film mixes action, drama and romance. As a fusion between 3 genres, the film cannot, really, be compared to other films. The extra features are well worth looking at. One thing to bear in mind if you decide to watch the "Making of" documentary -- only key portions are subtitled in English. :(
I whole-heartedly recommend this film to people who like the above genres. It may be two hours long but, believe me, it feels a lot shorter.
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on 17 July 2004
I thought this film was excellent. To understand this film and get the most out of it you need to know about Korean history and people. The story is plausible (certainly by Hollywood's standards) and the action and set pieces belie the low budget. The character of the assassin Hee/Hyun symbolises the divided Korean peninsula and Korean people's attitudes towards each other. While there is division, there is still great love, and regret. This film tries to put that in context. The fact that the event of the film is a football match between the two Koreas, and that the leaders shake hands in the movie, expresses what many Koreans wish for - a peaceful and amicable reunification.
Setting aside the story, the cinematography and tense pace of the film are electric. Korean films are individual, and like their people, culture and food, a somewhat acquired taste. However, those that persevere will be well rewarded.
I would also recommend Memories of Murder, Old Boy, Chihwaseon and Public Enemy as excellent examples of contemporary Korean cinema.
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The film beings in a frenetic and bloody way with images of war and ultra-violence. This serves as a montage depicting the extreme training of a female soldier, we even see her burning a family photo - a symbolic gesture to confirm her allegiance to a new life as a secret agent.

She then slips into the background as the film then focuses on two other secret agents who are tasked with finding her after she seems to have turned renegade. The only trace of her is her trademark killing style and the next two hours bring you a suspense action thriller which at first looks like it's punching above it's weight but matures into something pretty impressive.

The special effects are on the whole impressive and if you like your films with bullets flying then this won't disappoint as any scene which involves guns (and there are plenty of them) really go to town with the fire power and ensuing carnage. Initially Shiri seems as though it's a gritty Korean Bond film wannabe (there's even product placement - though nowhere near the level found in a modern Bond film) but it starts to blossom into something very individual.

What would be easy to dismiss as a flash shoot `em up develops an emotional edge which involves the relationship between a secret agent and his fiancée. This establishes the film as more than just a brainless action flick and underpins the strength of the film. The cat and mouse chase has a twist which is pretty obvious and you'll probably guess it before it's disclosure, but that doesn't matter - the characters in the film are unaware and you watch in anticipation of the reveal. The suspense builds and the film reaches a climactic final which is as brutal as it is tender.

Shiri also acts as a vessel to expand your cultural horizons. I'm not totally ignorant to the Korean political scene but the picture really does get you to think about the North/South divide and I feel I understand more about the plight of those who suffer the most under the dual regime. The film doesn't shy away from the politics, as often happens in Hollywood films of the same ilk which tend to use generic cultural assumptions as a basis for international tensions (the end of the Cold War wasn't great for Western cinema!). The 'baddies' in the film get a chance to get their message across and at some points you even sympathise with the terrorists.

In a nutshell: Japan and Hollywood beware - Korea is quickly making a name for itself as being able to produce films with the gloss of a Hollywood action feature, and the mental violence you associate with Japanese cinema. If this was series of mindless action scenes then Shiri would have dropped off the radar a long time ago, but it still remains popular internationally because it also has depth - even if it is narrowly focused on just one couple in the midst of the politics and danger.
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on 7 March 2006
This is the first Korean film I have ever seen and it wont be the last. It is a long time since I had such an emotional rollercoaster ride whilst watching a film. Gut wrenching violence in the opening frames followed by nerve tingling action scenes, mind-boggling plot twists and heart rending emotion in the love scenes. There are better reviews on this page describing the philisophical content and I agree with them. But this film surpasses words. Buy it, rent it, borrow it, but above all watch it!!! If you have a soul (or should that be Seoul?) you will love it
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on 19 July 2015
Not a film of overwhelming subtlety, the shooting starts right at the beginning and caries on pretty much continuously to the end. Styled after the Holywood and Hong Kong blockbusters of the day Shiri was extremely popular at the time and does raise what remains a somewhat taboo subject of the possible reunification of the two Koreas.
One criticism of the film is the apparent disparity between the special forces elements of this divided country, North Korean troops are all dead eye dicks that require a hail of bullets to take down, South Koreans on the other hand apparently couldn't hit a barn door on a good day, spraying tons of lead in the direction of their opponents, rarely if ever hitting anything. They also appear comparatively fragile and drop dead if a bullet gets within a hundred yards
I know there is a long tradition of guys as cannon fodder in all movie industries, but Shiri just looks a bit unbalanced.
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on 5 November 2012
05 November 2012
When special agent Ryu of South Korea's secret service fails to prevent the death of an arms smuggler turned infotmant, he instinctively suspects the involvemment of Hee, an enigmatic sniper from a North Korean terrorist group.

A skilled master of disguise, Hee previously assassinated many goverment offcials but since managed to disappar, escaping the unrelenting pursuit of South Korean agents. Now it appears that has returned.....
Featuring some truly breath-taking set pieces and ulta-kinetic shoot-out, this adrenalin-charged ride into the dangerous world of renegade snipers and secret intelligence officers was the highest grossing was the highest grossing box office success of all time in Korean history.
If you like any thing like this "Nikita and Die Hard" [It a good film to see]
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I was excited about having a chance to watch this movie; after all, Shiri became South Korea's most successful and most-watched film of all time, surpassing even the mighty Titanic. It seems only right that a Korean film should hold the box office record in South Korea. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from Shiri; I knew it was an action film involving a deadly female assassin from North Korea and that the plot revolved in some way around the idea of Korean unification, but that was the extent of my knowledge going in. Shiri definitely delivers, offering up heaping platefuls of suspense, action, and gritty violence; it also, much to its credit, carries an emotional payload of love, friendship, betrayal, duty, all of the angst that surrounds the question of unification. The special effects are well done (Shiri had a budget of only five million dollars, but that qualifies as a big budget in Korean cinema), the cinematography is beautiful, and the overall presentation of the film serves to touch the viewer in any number of ways.
I do have to admit that I found parts of the film somewhat confusing, especially early on; I also had trouble keeping some of the characters straight in my mind. I think this is explained by my American viewpoint and the fact that I could not devote all of my attention to the events on the screen as I had to depend on subtitles to follow the dialogue. Additionally, the whole theme of reunification obviously doesn't impact me the way it would a Korean audience. Even I can see how ambitious and daring the plot of this film was, though; this is truly a film borne out of the very soul of Korea.
Hee is North Korea's most infamous assassin, and as the movie opens, she seems to have reappeared for the first time in a year. South Korean special agents Ryu and Lee have been charged with the task of ending her reign of terror; this is no easy job, as she has left a trail of very important corpses right under their noses for years. As it turns out, Hee is not working alone now, and this only complicates things. Working alongside her now is a special, seemingly rogue element of the North Korean military. This group manages to steal a number of containers of a new super-incendiary device called CTX, and they stash these awful weapons throughout the metropolis of Seoul. These revolutionaries make demands that cannot be met, but their true goal is only made manifest in the final stages of the film. Against this backdrop, you have a highly visible cultural joining of both Koreas in the form of a soccer game in Seoul, the symbolism of which is made most obvious by the mutual attendance of the leaders of both Koreas. For special agents Ryu and Lee, the job of finding and eliminating the infamous Hee takes on incredibly emotional dimensions neither man could ever have anticipated, and it is on this highly personal level that the true heart of the movie plays out.
A 1999 film offering two distinct ideas about Korean reunification was definitely a risk for South Korean filmmaker Kang Je-Gyu. Of course, the greater the risk, the larger the possible reward, and this film proved the very opposite of divisive. South Koreans flocked to see Shiri, it is said that North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il arranged to see a stolen copy of it, and the South Korean government itself treated foreign diplomats to a free screening of this historic block-buster. Those who crave action and realistic violence will find much to their liking here, but it is Shiri's surprisingly powerful emotional impact that really sets the film apart as something special.
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on 10 March 2008
I think the reason this film gets some bad reviews, is occasionally people cant be bothered to read subtitles all the way through, which is their fault, not the films.

Personally, i found it intriguing and amusing (albeit slightly predictable). While it is not of the same quality as oldboy or the host, it is definitely a great film and i would reccomend it to any fan of korean cinema.
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