Escape From Mogadishu review: An explosive blockbuster with a unifying message

Escape From Mogadishu. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)
South Korean Ambassador Han Shin Sung (Kim Yoon Seok, left) and embassy staff Gong Soo Cheol (Jeong Man Shik, middle) are caught in a violent 1991 Somalian rebellion in Escape From Mogadishu. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)

Length: 121 minutes
Director: Ryoo Seung Wan
Cast: Jo In Sung, Kim Yoon Seok, Heo Joon Ho, Kim So Jin

In theatres 2 September (Singapore)

3 out of 5 stars

Although the two Koreas are still technically at war, it doesn't stop South Korean filmmakers from freely making movies and dramas that depict their Northern counterparts however they want.

Yet, it is to the credit of South Korean filmmakers that most of their works do not demonise the North Koreans, who are openly caricatured by the West.

Take for example Descendants Of The Sun (2016), in which the North Koreans are portrayed as a military force to be reckoned with, or Crash Landing On You (2020) where the lives of regular North Koreans are revealed to viewers just as they are - regular people, albeit lacking technology and the latest household products.

South and North Koreans face off in Escape From Mogadishu. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)
South Korean ambassador Han Shin Sung (Kim Yoon Seok, middle left) and North Korean ambassador Rim Yong Soo (Heo Jun Ho, right) face off in Escape From Mogadishu. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)

Escape From Mogadishu has premiered to quite a reception, hitting the highest opening record of all the Korean films released this year. It sold 127,000 tickets on premiere day and topped the local box office by grossing 893 million won (US$780,000).

The movie focuses on the political game of the two countries and the coincidental relationship that both countries inadvertently develop. It is the year 1991 in Mogadishu, the capital city of the volatile African country of Somalia. Instability threatens its tenuous peace, and other countries are trying to curry its favour to gain a coveted seat in the United Nations.

Both the South and North Korean ambassadors have locked horns in a game of politics, each trying to gain the favour of the Somalian President, Mohamed Sial Barre. But before either party can gain any sort of foothold to attain their objective of a UN council seat, all hell breaks loose as rebels invade Mogadishu, throwing the entire city into an infernal civil war.

All the embassies of foreign countries are targeted by the rebels, who paint them as foreign devils who are allied with the corrupt President Barre. The embassies of South and North Korea are repeatedly attacked, and the siege rapidly dwindles their food supplies.

Director Ryoo Seung Wan is renowned for his blockbuster hits like The City of Violence (2006) and Battleship Island (2017), and his trademark explosive style is duly present in every adrenaline-packed scene which involves hailing bullets and thundering gunfire.

A-lister actor Jo In Sung is an intelligence diplomat, who unfortunately is not very intelligent nor very diplomatic. He swaggers from scene to scene, arm-twisting, confronting and picking fights with everyone, especially the North Koreans – who eventually swallow their pride and take a huge risk by approaching the South Koreans when their food supplies run out – led by Ambassador Rim Yong Soo, played by veteran actor Heo Joon Ho.

Unlike his younger and antagonistic counterpart, South Korean ambassador Han Shin Sung is a model diplomat, portrayed by another veteran actor, Kim Yoon Seok.

(Read our interview with the cast of Escape From Mogadishu here.)

Escape From Mogadishu. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)
Kim Yoon Seok (left) and Jo In Sung are beleagured South Korean diplomats trying to flee a volatile Somalian civil war in Escape From Mogadishu. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)

It's interesting to note that the attires and even the models of vehicles deployed in the movie are very aptly tailored to reflect the '90s, down to the cassette tapes and typewriters used in the embassies, which I felt was a very nice touch.

My favourite scene was a thrilling car chase towards the end, where the Koreans band together in a convoy of cars reinforced by everything they could find in their embassies, braving continuous hails of gunfire in their desperation to reach the Italian embassy in a last ditch effort to leave Mogadishu.

The movie gives us a rare insight into the relationship between South and North Korea, where for the sake of survival, one party must swallow their pride in order to preserve their lives. Perhaps that is what both countries need right now — a common cause for survival which will make them realise their common humanity and nationality as one people.

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