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Escape From Mogadishu (2021) – Review: An Ambitious and Compelling Thriller From Director Seung-wan Ryoo

October 19, 2021

Quick Thoughts: Grade – B – Based on a true story, Escape From Mogadishu is a thrilling film that features solid performances and a believable atmosphere loaded with sweat, bullets, and important compromises between North and South Korean embassy workers. It’s currently the official submission of South Korea for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ category and the highest grossing South Korean film of 2021.

Escape From Mogadishu focuses on embassy workers from North and South Korea teaming up to escape the violence of the Somali Civil War, which rocked the country in 1991. While it’s taken liberties with the story to make it more exciting, it’s still a fun example of extraordinary compromise and teamwork during a wildly violent time. Director Seung-wan Ryoo (The Battleship Island, The Berlin File) has crafted a fun film which breezes by and stretches its $20 million (24 billion KRW) budget expertly, as there are hundreds of extras, big set pieces, and excellent production design. It’s nice knowing that it was shot in Morocco (and not a backlot), and that was a wise decision as it adds authenticity to the proceedings that make the film much more believable. Also, the cinematography by Ryoo regular Young-hwan Choi (The Berlin File) is the MVP of the film, and his work during the climatic car chase is worth the price of admission (you might never look at books the same way again). 

The best moments belong to Huh Joon-ho (Kingdom) and Kim Yoon-seok (The Chaser) who play the North and South Korean ambassadors. Watching them figure out how to trust each other, and team up in a way that won’t get them in trouble with their governments is a lot of fun. The two go from sabotaging each other’s attempts to be accepted into the United Nations, to equals who momentarily team up to keep their families and coworkers safe. Some of the best moments in the movie happen when they discuss how to not become pariahs when they return home after teaming up, as neither want to seem like defectors or spies when they arrive back in their countries. 

The biggest issue with the film is how it never fleshes out the characters, or gives the female characters anything to do. The acting is solid, and the cast is game, but there’s a heroic shining light on the characters which never totally feels organic. Since it’s an action film, character development isn’t totally necessary, but there’s just something off about how wholesome the characters are. It would have been nice to give the characters a few more wrinkles and moments to make us care more about them. For instance, one of the most memorable scenes happens during a shared dinner between the two groups. The North Koreans hold off on eating until Kim Yon-seok’s character eats first to prove the dinner his group provided isn’t poisoned. It’s a 10-second moment, but it shows the dynamics between the countries, and makes things a little more human. 

Final thoughtsEscape From Mogadishu is an ambitious and fun film that’s worth a watch.

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