While American studios struggle to recoup the cost of their big-budget bombs, South Korea’s Lotte Entertainment has produced arguably the best film of the year at a fraction of the cost.
Over the last few years, South Korea has become a powerhouse in the world of cinema. While it doesn’t have the billions of dollars to create and influence movies that China does, the country has produced outstanding films at a fraction of the cost, such as 2019’s Academy Award-winning film “Parasite.”
What separates South Korea and the U.S. film markets besides big budgets is the fact that Korea can create content without having to deal with big studio interference and mandates, meaning stories are allowed to be stories.
“Escape from Mogadishu” can be described as a historical action drama or a geopolitical thriller, but no matter your preference the film is one of the very best this year.
While films based on the Somali Civil War of the 1990s are nothing new, this is one of the first films of its kind that tackles the conflict from a Korean perspective. The movie blends the tales of two separate civil conflicts together, creating one complex and riveting story of nationalism and survival.
While Somalia is the setting for the story, the focus is on the North-versus-South Korean conflict and the complexity of their rivalry. North Korean officials are not even allowed to associate with South Korean officials over fears that their representatives will defect to the South. Conspiring with the South is punishable by death, making the stakes of working together in secret that much more dangerous.
The story delivers a strong message about the evils of corrupt governments and how their policies destroy the lives of their citizens, even their own diplomats. Writer/Director Seung-wan Ryoo handles the story with grace, while avoiding editorializing the events to fit a narrative. Seung-wan doesn’t attempt to portray either the government or the rebels as the heroes, as both sides are equally dangerous to our protagonists. He also manages to sympathize with the people involved in the conflicts, without excusing the brutality of the situation.
The film does a great job of emotionally portraying the difficulty the Korean rivals experience when they are forced to rely on each other as allies in hostile territory. At one point the South Korean delegation wishes to bring the North Koreans back to Seoul as defectors but doing so will guarantee the deaths of the North Koreans’ family back home.
For a budget of $20 million, this is one of South Korea’s biggest films in years, but the money is spent wisely, sucking the audience right into the world of an early ’90s international incident. “Escape from Mogadishu” hits a cinematic home run with a charismatic cast, smart writing and intriguing storytelling.
“Escape from Mogadishu” raises the bar for multinational political thrillers in the world of global filmmaking. A film that displays high-level geopolitics and intelligently written dialogue takes the early spot for the best film of 2021.