The Age of Shadows is a genre blending film. You can’t easily define it. On a basic level, it’s probably a drama or an action film, maybe even a thriller. What it actually is, is a war movie with elements of classic film noir and old school spy flicks. The way it blends these elements together really makes this film something special.
Set in the 1920’s at a time when Japan was occupying Korea, The Age of Shadows is about the struggle between the Japanese occupants and the Korean Resistance. It’s a period of history I knew nothing about and I’m not sure how accurate this film is.
Right from the opening moments, the film does a great job at outlining the central conflict and who’s on what side. It simplifies things. The only problem is that the film doesn’t really explain why the Japanese occupation is a bad thing (besides the fact that the country is under foreign control).
The two lead characters are great in their roles. One is an intelligent, determined resistance fighter. The other is a native Korean working high up in the Japanese police. The latter of which is the most interesting part of the film. He is great at portraying a conflicted man that’s forced to take action against his own people. Questions of allegiance as well as ethics and morality are brought up consequently. This is a film about people, not about two nations in conflict.
Visually speaking, the film is stunning. Great attention has been made to the production design and costumes. Everything looks right for the period. Plus, the noir lighting and colour palette really enhances the atmosphere and gives the film a unique identity.
There are some good action scenes. One particular scene aboard a train steals the entire film. Without spoiling anything, this scene is an extended, tension filled sequence involving almost all of the key characters in a classic, spy scenario.
The only thing I wasn’t entirely keen on was the ending. Like the final Lord of the Rings film, The Age of Shadows simply doesn’t know when or how to finish. The ending drags on and while it’s certainly not bad, it could’ve been condensed a bit more. There’s a twist I didn’t see coming and everyone gets closure, but it’s just a little long.
The Age of Shadows is a great film, even with the minor quibbles regarding the ending. The acting is well done, it’s well directed with great cinematography and it’s really impressive how it blends genres to create its own identity. I highly recommend it.