Shiri (or Swiri in Korean) is a 1999 South Korean action/drama movie directed by Kang Je-gyu, which was the first movie as a tribute to action movies made in Asia, America and Europe as part of a new wave of Korean films. With a budget of USD$8,500,000 at the time, it was considered by critics to be one of the most expensive movies made in Korea. It starred Han Suk-kyu, Song Kang-ho, Choi Min-sik and Yunjin Kim. The success of the movie would serve as the basis for the Korean spy drama Iris.
Released in theaters in Korea, it was soon released overseas in an effort to gain an international audience. It was later released in DVD in the late 1990s and early to mid 2000s. A high definition was released and was aired in South Korea by KBS, but it was never released for the overseas market.
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.
The film contains examples of:
- 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".
- 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/Downer Ending: A mix of both. 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.
- California Doubling: North Korean scenes were filmed in South Korea. Averted for South Korean scenes.
- 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.
- Contemptible Cover: The North American version features a nearly naked Asian woman with a gun. This does not reference anything within the film itself.
- 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: You can see several Korean-made vehicles, including Kia, Hyundai and Daelim (A Korean motorbike maker). Samsung logos are also seen throughout the movie. You can also spot some Ford and Chevrolet vehicles also. A Bennigan's restaurant is also seen.
- 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.
- At times, OP tac teams alongside SWAT units, although the former became better in the end when they were able to take down two of Park's subordinates during the stadium raid.
- 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.
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?
- 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.