Steel Rain (2017) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A race against another Korean war

South Korean film “Steel Rain”, which I somehow missed when it was released in South Korean theaters around the end of 2017, is so fast, efficient, and urgent during its first half that it let me down during its middling second half. While it is not entirely without fun and entertainment, the movie could be more effective if it got rid of a number of unnecessary elements, and I also have some reservation on the nationalistic side of the finale.

At the beginning, we are introduced to Eom Cheol-woo (Jung Woo-sung), a former North Korean Reconnaissance agent who has lived a shabby daily life with his family since being discharged from his military service some time ago. On one day, he is approached by his former commander, and this dude orders Eom to carry out a secret mission which seems absolutely necessary for preventing the possible coup d’état to overthrow the current North Korean government. All Eom has to do is eliminating two certain high-ranking North Korean generals, and we soon see him accomplishing the half of his covert mission.

However, of course, it subsequently turns out to Eom that he should not trust anyone. For accomplishing the other half of the mission, he sneaks into an industry complex near the border between South Korean and North Korea, and then he waits for his target to appear along with several high-ranking officials, but then, what do you know, the target does not come while the chief of the North Korean government arrives instead.

While Eom tries to figure out what the hell is going on around him, it looks like the situation has already gone way over his head. A bunch of North Korean special agents cross the border via an underground tunnel, and then their following actions lead to the sudden attack on that industry complex. While Eom manages to survive, many people around him died or are seriously injured, and then there come a bunch of North Korean soldiers, who ruthlessly start to kill any survivor around them.

Fortunately, the chief of the North Korean government, who is simply called “No.1” without being directly shown to us, is still alive, but he is seriously injured, and Eom and two factory workers manage to get their leader out of the scene while evading the pursuit of their opponents. Because they certainly cannot go north under their situation, they have no chance but to go south, and they soon find themselves entering South Korea after luckily going through the checkpoint along with Chinese officials fleeing from the scene.

Meanwhile, the movie gives us a wider viewpoint via Kwak Cheol-woo (Kwak Do-won), who is the Chief of Foreign Affairs and Security in the South Korean government. Everyone around him including the South Korean president has been more relaxed than before as entering the transition period before the inauguration of the next president, but then there comes the news on the sudden attack on that industry complex, and the president subsequently finds himself pressured a lot by the US government, which forcefully demands an immediate response within 36 hours.

As trying to get things under control along with others, Kwak comes to learn of an incident which happened near the border not long after the attack on the industrial complex. Thanks to his lucky hunch involved with his divorced wife, it does not take much time for Kwak to encounter Eom and then discern Eom’s desperate status, and it looks like Kwan and the South Korean government now have something which will abort the increasingly perilous circumstance surrounding not only South and North Korea but also US, China, and Japan.

As our two different heroes try to prevent another war in Korean peninsula, the movie keeps maintaining the level of tension via several plot turns popping here and there along its narrative. While the South Korean president and his cabinet members are far more pressured as being sandwiched between US and China, more North Korean secret agents come down to South Korea, and our two guys come to work with each other more than expected. As going through a series of dangerous moments including one tense action sequence unfolded within a hospital building, they surely come to find something common between them, and there is a little humorous scene where they happen to have a little moment of peace at a small restaurant.

However, the screenplay by director Yang Woo-seok and his co-writer Jeong Ha-yong puts too much emphasis on the mandatory melodramatic male bonding between its two characters, and that often inhibits its plot progress in distracting ways. Although Jung Woo-sung and Kwan Do-won are engaging actors, they are often limited by their rather flat archetype roles, and the same thing can be said about the other notable cast members in the film including Kim Kap-soo, Lee Kyung-young, and Kim Eui-sung.

On the whole, “Steel Rain” is a competent action thriller flick at least during its first half, but then it comes to lose most of its narrative momentum due to several reasons including its artificial ending where everything is resolved too quickly and conveniently within around 10 minutes. I must tell you that its simple-minded view on the ongoing conflict between South and North Korea, which is blatantly expressed in several scenes including the very last one, bothered me at times during my viewing, but I will not stop you if you just want to be entertained without much reflection on your mind.

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