This political drama from South Korea tells the amazing true story of a daring escape of North and South Korean diplomats from Somalia in the early 1990s while hell breaks loose. It was South Korea’s contribution to best international feature at the Oscars and has the very polished, solid weight feel in top quality (here are echoes of Ben Affleck’s best picture-winning Argo). What makes it worth the price of a download is a muscle-exciting third act that ends with an action movie car chase through the chaos of the war zone.
It is 1991. Diplomats from North and South Korea in Mogadishu have competed for Somalia’s vote to decide whether South Korea joins the UN. South Korean Ambassador Han (Kim Yoon-seok)’s attempt to woo Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre has been repeatedly thwarted by his opposite number at the North Korean embassy, cunning veteran Rim (Huh Joon-ho). Then Barre is overthrown, the capital falls into anarchy, and the North Koreans come and knock on the South Koreans’ door to get a sanctuary. An incident as they walk through the streets of the capital confirms something I have heard war reporters say: that nothing is more frightening than a small child with a loaded gun.
There is some unexpected humor at the South Korean embassy, like the unpleasant silence around the dinner table while the North Koreans nervously fiddle with their chopsticks. The South Korean ambassador He clicks on what is happening and swaps plates: The North Koreans are afraid of being poisoned by their enemies.
This is a decent, intelligent, well-acted film, albeit a little uninspired until the third act, which gives an almighty blow: staff from both embassies traveling in a convoy of cars through an intimidatingly credible conflict zone: gun shooters, flying Molotov cocktails. It is a shame, however, that there is no more curiosity about the Somali characters, which for a man (and this is a film about men) is completely one-dimensional.