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Film / Shiri

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"You know the fish named Shiri? It's a [native Korean] fish, living in crystal streams. Though they're separated with the country divided, someday they'll reunite in the same stream."
Park Mu-young given a partial "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Yu Jong-won on the theme of Korean unification.

Shirinote  is a 1999 South Korean action/drama movie directed by Kang Je-gyu and starring Han Suk-kyu, Song Kang-ho, Choi Min-sik and Yunjin Kim.

In 1992, the Korean People's Army recruited a promising soldier named Lee Bang-Hee, who was then trained by the Ground Force's elite 8th Special Forces Unit. She gets deployed covertly to South Korea, where she plays a key role by using her special forces training to take out several prominent South Korean scientists, defense officials and politicians throughout the mid 1990s. Operation Center, hot on her tail, investigated a promising lead in 1996 before the trail went cold.

In 1998, OP gets a lead when a CI, who turns to be an arms dealer, was assassinated by a mysterious sniper. South Korean law enforcement confirms that Bang-Hee has resurfaced under orders from Pyongyang. OP agents Yu Jong-won and Lee Jang-gil investigate the CI's death as their first major case in years. But as they continue, the two agents get wind of a plot by renegade North Korean commandos led by Park Mu-young, a seasoned North Korean commando and officer in the same unit Hee is in, being involved in a terror plot to take out North and South Korean politicians in a North/South Korean soccer friendship game by using a prototype liquid bomb called CTX.

This film was at the crest of a new wave in Korean cinema, as local filmmakers became more ambitious and sought to create projects at a larger scale. With a budget of USD$8,500,000, it was the most-expensive Korean film made up to that point and also Korea's first true blockbuster, with crowds lining up to see it. It was also the first Korean film to make a concerted push into foreign markets and started drawing international attention to the Korean film industry.

The success of the movie would serve as the basis for the Korean spy drama Iris.

The film contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The film's plot spans 1992-1998; the film itself was released in 1999.
  • Action Prologue: The movie starts when prospective North Korean commando recruits go in and do their training by killing political prisoners.
  • Anyone Can Die: It happens in the middle of the movie. Not even Lee is spared from being killed.
  • Arc Words: "Goodbye".
  • Artistic License History: The opening text in the non-Korean release claims that the division of Korea after WW 2 led to "communism in the North and democracy in the South." The fact is that both Koreas were dictatorships for a very long time. Only in the late 80s after several violent demonstrations did South Korea start implementing various democratic reforms. Today South Korea is a reasonably well functioning democracy, despite some continuing problems with things like police brutality and corruption.
  • Big Damn Heroes: OP tac teams led by another OP agent arrived in time to save Yu from being killed by Park and his team in the stadium's control room.
  • Bittersweet Ending: While Yu was able to save the South Korean president from being killed to prevent another Korean War from taking place, he had to contend with the death of his partner, who was killed during his investigation into the mole's presence in Seoul. He also learns that his girlfriend was Bang-Hee and was pregnant with his child.
  • Catapult Nightmare: The movie partially starts when Bang-Hee assassinates Yu and Lee in a Bennigan's restaurant in Seoul. The former wakes up and sees that he was in an OP office.
  • Code Name: Shiri, aside from being used as a Title Drop, also served as the name for the terror plot in Seoul.
  • Deadly Graduation: North Korean commando recruits going through a hellish training program and initiation. In one test, the cadets are made to bayonet a field full of civilians who are tied to stakes. One man shows remorse afterwards and is killed. In another, cadets are paired up and each given a disassembled pistol. The first one to correctly assemble it must shoot their partner.
  • Dream Intro: The film starts when OP agents Yu and Lee were having lunch when they were assassinated in broad daylight by North Korean commando Lee Bang-Hee, resulting in a Catapult Nightmare for the former when he realizes that he's still at work.
  • Driving Question: In-universe, OP wants to know why Hee is in Seoul conducting terror attacks on and off.
  • Escort Mission: Yu and Lee were assigned to go with the convoy. But they never made in time since Park's team not only ambushed the convoy, but they also secured the CTX.
  • Far East Asian Terrorists: Eventually the movie gets into this when OP realizes that the North Korean commandos were not acting under orders from Pyongyang.
  • Fast-Roping: Yu and Lee do this from an OP chopper to the bridge where the ROK Army convoy was ambushed.
  • Foreshadowing: Yu receives a pair of fish called Kissingurami, being told that if one of them dies, the other one will too. It plays a big clue as to who is the real enemy responsible for spying on OP ops and leaking sensitive info to Park.
  • Gun Stripping: Part of the training given by the KPA towards prospective commando recruits.
  • It Makes Sense in Context: During a phone conversation between Park and Yu, the former talks about the significance of a Korean fish species named Shiri. See the quote above the page for more details.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Park's team was after the CTX so that they can bomb the stadium and kill off top North/South Korean politicians. They fooled OP by assuming that they just wanna wreck havoc in Seoul.
  • Product Placement: The film was produced by Samsung and partly funded by SK through Speed 011 (a cellphone service) so their logos are prominently displayed, including a shot of a flying helicopter festooned in Samsung logos, all characters using cellphones with Speed 011 branding prominently displayed and a running gunfight taking place in front of a large Speed 011 billboard.
  • Red Shirt Army: South Korean troops sent in to guard the CTX convoy. To be fair, they were taken by surprise since Park's team was dressed up as South Korean soldiers too.
  • Race Against the Clock: Played with in terms of setting off and detonating the CTX.
  • Shown Their Work: ROK Army uniforms, except for being armed with M16s. Could be justified that armorers were not able to secure the K2s needed.
    • The uniform and gear of SWAT officers are also depicted correctly.
    • Near the end, Yu talks to a girl in a hospital who explained that someone she knew who turns to be Hyun aka Bang-Hee went to Japan to have plastic surgery done. Japan is another country where North Korean intelligence agents and commandos are known to be present aside from South Korea, according to Japanese law enforcement/intelligence agencies. Their presence alone is a major security problem, having been responsible for kidnapping Japanese nationals during the Cold War.
  • SWAT Team: The Korean SWAT unit is deployed to help out OP agents. Unfortunately at times, they serve to be killed by Park's team.
    • Averted with OP's tac teams, when they were able to subdue the rogue commandos from detonating the bomb even as they sustain casualties.
  • Take That!: When Yu is held captive by Park, he ranted in a speech that the division of the Koreas was caused by Kim Il-Sung and the Korean Worker's Party.
  • Time Bomb: CTX, developed by South Korea as (in 1990s standards) the next-generation bomb made by the Korea Energy Development Lab. Its a Super Prototype with a few units made that it can defeat current methods of detecting explosives. The only way to tell it apart from water is to use light and heat. When you see a red sphere forming in said liquid, expect the contents to explode in a few minutes.
  • Title Drop: Mentioned many times in the story.
  • The '90s: The movie takes place in 1998, though it initially started in 1992.
  • Vulnerable Convoy: The ROK Army convoy consisted of a trailer truck, a jeep and a 4x4 truck carrying armed soldiers. They didn't last in the ambush.
  • William Telling: In her Training from Hell, a North Korean assassin must walk at a steady pace past the assembled ranks of her classmates, firing a pistol past their heads at targets in the back row.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: When Park phones in with a bomb threat with the first bomb going off a bit earlier than usual, OP assumes that he and his team are in Seoul to commit terror attacks. Turns out that it wasn't their main objective at all.
    • OP thinks that Park wants the CTX to be sold to another country, use it as a leverage in future inter-Korean negotiations or to seek asylum in a pro-North Korean country or show the world "proof" that Seoul is building an offensive weapon to be used against them since they want peace. Yu and Lee don't buy it since he knows that the commandos didn't steal the bomb for money or to spoil future peace talks.
    Yu: If they wanted the money, why CTX? Robbing the Bank of Korea would be much easier.
    Lee: Why would [Park] spoil the peace conference by using the bomb?