Runtime: 121 minutes
Director: Ryoo Seung-wan
Writer: Lee Gi-cheol, Ryoo Seung-wan
Cast: Kim Yoon-seok, Jo In-sung, Heo Joon-ho, Koo Kyo-hwan, Kim So-jin, Jung Man-sik, Kim Jae-hwa, Park Kyung-hye
By Harris Dang
“Escape from Mogadishu” (2021) tells the true story of two rival diplomats, the South Korean ambassador of Somalia Han Sin-seong (Kim Yoon-seok) and the North Korean ambassador of Somalia Rim Yong-su (Heo Joon-ho). The two clearly share different ideologies and are heavily prejudiced toward one another; even if some of it is unfounded by exigent circumstances involving double-crossing between the abrasive officers Kang Dae-jin (Jo In-sung) and Tae Joon-ki (Koo Kyo-hwan) and manipulation without the consent of either party.
Until one day, a major event of a government overthrow occurs between government forces and rebel fighters; causing chaos and destruction. It affects the two in ways that they have to swallow their national pride and band together “for survival in order to escape from Mogadishu.
“Escape from Mogadishu” (2021) is the latest film from director Ryoo Seung-wan; who is famous for making pulpy crime flicks and action blockbusters with an assured hand for staging fantastic action setpieces. Much like his prior film “The Battleship Island” (2017), he is back in territory in dramatizing a true story for maximum commercial effect.
But in “Mogadishu,” he succeeds handily thanks to his capability in mixing the humanity of the narrative and his characters with his strong commercial sensibility, resulting in crowd-pleasing spectacle and stirring human drama. The first two acts are spent in crafting the characters and establishing the settings and conflicts and Ryoo executes the development efficiently, even if the storytelling manages to be tried-and true and simplistic.
Both sides may have conflicting ideas and agendas but they are shown to be fighting for what they believe to be the greater good and the film barely attempts to delve in deeper in regards to those ideas or what makes the characters tick. Which does not really give the actors much to do in terms of dramatic complexity. However, the cast is more than charismatic and committed to make the characters worth caring for — Kim with his roguish charm, Heo with his understated presence and both Jo and Koo with their enthusiasm.
Even if the narrative lacks ambition in its storytelling, The film does try to compensate with good-natured humour, making the character interactions feel endearing and respectful and it is very well-implemented in its timing that it does not impediment the drama. And if that was not enough, Ryoo unleashes a final act that manages to provide thrills, explosions, suspense and true poignancy that even the known destination of the story cannot hinder in its power. The climax consists of an extended car chase that is so well-staged and ingeniously concocted (books, sandbags and doors are used to fortify the cars) that it makes the “Fast and Furious” movies feel lighter than air.
But the emotional climax of the story is what caps off a satisfying film. What could have been spoiled if the film had veered towards rampant sentimentality, spoken emotions, sappy music and lazily used closing titles is a compelling ending that gets its message of unity with the power of silence. No more is left to be said and the acting from the performers and the subtle touch from director Ryoo brings the film to a truly touching close.
While the film may lack ambition in its attempts in its establishment of characterizations, “Escape from Mogadishu” (2021) is a crowd-pleasing dramatization of a real-life event involving Korean diplomats who fled Somalia during the 1991 civil war in the titular location, closed by one of the best final acts in 2021. Recommended.
“Escape from Mogadishu” (2021) is showing in cinemas now, courtesy of Well Go USA.