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  Escape from Mogadishu Squabbling As The World Burns
Year: 2021
Director: Ryoo Seung-wan
Stars: Kim Yoon-seok, Jo In-Sung, Huh Joon-ho, Koo Kyo-hwan, Kim So-jin, Jeong Man-sik, Kim Jae-hwa, Park Kyung-hye, Park Myung-shin, Han Chul-Woo, Joo Bo-Bi, Ahn Se-ho, Lee Jin Hee, Choi Kyeong-Hoon, Lee Hwa-Jung, Jeong Byeong-doo
Genre: War, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Somalia, 1991, and South Korea has been determined to join the United Nations for some years now. What does that have to do with Somalia? They, as with a number of African nations, can have a deciding vote over whether the organisation lets them in, so Seoul has been sending diplomats and sweeteners there - or bribes, if you prefer - in the hope President Barre will agree to accepting them. Just one problem: North Korea would love to scupper these talks and prevent its neighbour and enemy from achieving its international goals, and they have diplomats in the country as well on a spoiler mission...

But never mind that, as there is a more pressing set of circumstances erupting, as we see when we follow the South Korean diplomat Han (Kim Yoon-seok) on a trip to meet with the President only to have all the goodies he was going to hand over be stolen by a group of terrorists. Or were they in the pay of the North? When he and his team arrive there they are told, because they are fifteen minutes late, that another meeting is taking place instead, with NK diplomat Rim (Huh Joon-ho), and Han sees red, so to speak. However, internal strife is fast dominating Somalia, and civil war is taking hold of its populace.

You may remember Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, and how it strived to represent the American experience in Somalia as that war threw everything into chaos. That banked on the fact that none of the soldiers really knew why they were there or what they were fighting for, that confusion contributing to the suspense, yet also depicting the locals as little more than bloodthirsty bogeymen who were rarely characterised above violent monsters. That's an issue with films set in war zones, but director Ryoo Seung-wan was more careful than that, or more thoughtful at least, with how he showed the antagonists.

After all, the real antagonists were the Koreans, and that sense of two factions squabbling over ideologies as the world burns around them felt very pertinent to the twenty-first century. It is a well-known fantasy of South Koreans that their country could undergo reunification, though it seems too much water has flowed under the bridge for that to happen any time soon, but Escape from Mogadishu provided fuel for that desire by positing the real-life story, albeit embellished, that both sides could set aside their differences and survive in a hostile environment. That said, it does take a lot of work to reach that agreement and grudges are very much in the air, but when the Northerners arrive at the embassy where the Southerners are hiding, something has to give.

Ryoo, already an expert in espionage thrillers on his home turf, travelled to Morocco to represent Somalia, which tended to be the go-to location for non-African movies wanting an African setting that they could produce their efforts in with some safety - Somalia is not a desirable destination even after all these years since 1991. But if locals could tell the difference, and note that there was not a huge try at explaining their situation, the violence of the place was brought home in many tense sequences, from meeting child soldiers to the climactic car chase in a mad dash to the airport where both Southerners and Northerners have been promised seats on a Red Cross plane out of there. This part garnered most of the attention, and it is superbly shot and staged, but there were gems of scenes scattered throughout, and the sense that while it was not going to get bogged down in politics, it did need to explain and provide hope. Only the spontaneous kung fu bit was out of place. Music by Bang Jun-seok.

[Signature Entertainment presents Escape from Mogadishu in Cinemas and on Digital Platforms 25th March 2022.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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