January 3, 2022 – Bumbling Korean diplomatic efforts to secure an important United Nations vote are suddenly replaced by a desperate fight for survival in war-torn Somalia, depicted in this movie, based on actual events in 1990.
The first part of this movie is like a comedy as an inexperienced South Korean Ambassador, Han Sin-seong (played by Kim Yoon-seok) tries to bring gifts to the leader of Somalia in Mogadishu, hoping to persuade Somalia to back South Korea's membership in the United Nations in an upcoming UN vote.
At the same time, the more experienced, and ruthless, North Korean Ambassador, Rim Yong-su (played by Heo Joon-ho) and his intelligence officer Tae Joon-ki (Koo Kyo-hwan) are trying to achieve the same goal. This leads to a comedy of spy versus spy tricks as the North Koreans secretly sabotage and undermine South Korea's efforts to secure the Somali vote.
The Somali officials, operating under a military junta, led by Major General Mohamed Siad Barre, are very corrupt, and demand bribes in return for influencing the Somali UN vote. When the South Korean Ambassador and his intelligence officer, Kang Dae-jin (Jo In-sung) meet their North Korean counterparts in the capital, Mogadishu, Han Sin-seong accuses the North Korean ambassador of not playing fair. He knows the North Koreans were behind the robbery and sabotage that caused him to be locked out of a meeting with Barre.
Just then, at the moment of their confrontation, gunfire erupts right outside the presidential compound, and the diplomats run for cover. A popular uprising against the government has erupted, and rebel armies are closing in on Mogadishu. Civil war has erupted. All diplomatic bets are off.
The Somali civil war is complex, with various armed rebel factions battling the Somali Army and police. Loyalties are divided, and the rebels seem to be everywhere. Diplomatic compounds in Mogadishu are no longer safe. The army cannot protect them. The South Korean compound is safer because it is protected by what are essentially mercenaries, heavily armed police, paid to protect the compound.
The North Korean compound is overrun by rebels, who do not respect its sovereignty under international law. The men, women and children in the compound are forced to leave on foot and seek refuge where they can. Desperate and unarmed, the North Koreans seek refuge at the nearby South Korean diplomatic compound, where they are not welcome. Han Sin-seong is not inclined to let them in, but he finally decides to take pity on them.
The North and South Koreans distrust each other, particularly the two intelligence officers, who end up in a fist fight. A sort of Stockholm syndrome sets in. Despite their past enmity, the two ambassadors agree to work together to find a way out of Somalia. Their best hope is to negotiate for help from other ambassadors at the remaining intact foreign diplomatic compounds.
Just getting to one of the other ambassadors is very dangerous, since civil authority has broken down and chaos reigns in Mogadishu. When the hired armed guards at the South Korean compound all quit, it is only a matter of time until someone breaks into the compound and the killing begins. The Koreans, and all foreigners, are hated by the rebels, who associate them with the corrupt Barre regime.
This movie reminds me of other escape movies, like “Argo” (2012) and, of course, “The Great Escape” (1963). In these movies, the drama is built in, because of the danger and difficulty of escaping. This film has all that, of course, but it goes beyond that by developing its characters, highlighting their hatred and distrust of each other, and then showing how those feelings are overcome by their common humanity.
In addition to a compelling story and convincing performances from the actors, this movie also has a lot of high energy action scenes, so there is something for everyone in this film, directed by Ryoo Seung-wan. This film has been selected as the official South Korean entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards. This film rates an A.
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