South Korean film “Escape from Mogadishu” is a gritty and intense action thriller flick which is loosely based on a real-life story between South and North Korean embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1991. While often reminiscent of a bunch of notable Hollywood movies ranging from “Black Hawk Down” (2001) to “Argo” (2012), the movie steadily holds our attention via its efficient narrative and several good action scenes, and I appreciate the efforts and skills put into its admirable overall result.
At the beginning, the movie gives us a bit of historical background information on the diplomatic competition between South and North Korea around that time. For getting enough votes for its future UN membership from many of African countries, the South Korean government and its diplomats attempted to persuade these African countries via various means including economic support, but their efforts were often countered by their North Korean counterparts in many cases, and Somalia was no exception as shown during the early scenes of the film. Although he has not received much support from his government, Han Sin-seong (Kim Yoon-seok), the South Korean ambassador to Somalia, has tried as much as he can along with his few subordinates including Kang Dae-ji (Jo In-sung), but their latest diplomatic attempt is undermined by a little indirect interference from the North Korean embassy, which is headed by Ambassador Rim Young-su (Heo Joon-ho).
While Ambassador Han and other South Korean embassy officials keep conflicting with their North Korean counterparts, the situation gradually becomes more unstable in Mogadishu day by day. Both Ambassador Han and Ambassador Rim are not particularly disturbed by this circumstance because they have been quite accustomed to the ongoing civil war in Somalia, but then the situation becomes much more volatile than expected. As the rebel army is getting closer and closer to Mogadishu, the city is consequently thrown into more disturbance and chaos, and it soon becomes quite clear to every foreign embassy official in the city that they must leave the city as soon as possible.
Once the rebel army enters Mogadishu, the city is turned into lawless war zones riddled with rioters and soldiers eager to shoot anyone on their sight, and Ambassador Han and his embassy people soon find themselves stuck inside their embassy building. While they can stay there for a few more days, they should immediately find any possible way to leave the city alive before it is too late, and Ambassador Han must find any foreign embassy which may help their escape from Mogadishu.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Rim and his North Korean embassy officials become much more desperate as their embassy is eventually attacked by rioters like many other embassies in the city. As they are helplessly stranded outside without any good alternative, Ambassador Rim decides that they should go to the South Korean embassy, and Ambassador Han reluctantly allows Ambassador Rim and other North Korean embassy officials into his embassy building. While both of these two conflicting groups certainly feel awkward to stay together, Ambassador Rim and Ambassador Han agree that they and their people must stick together for now, and, despite some understandable frictions between their groups, everyone in the embassy soon works together for surviving their increasingly dangerous circumstance together.
As our two ambassadors desperately search for any possible option for their people, the movie deftly dials up the level of tension on the screen while occasionally focusing on the rampaging confusion and terror on the lawless streets and alleys of Mogadishu, and it wisely does not overplay the strained mood between South and North Korean characters. Although a subplot involved with the hostile mutual distrust between Dae-jin and his North Korean counterpart is rather contrived, both North and South Korean main characters in the film are simply presented as ordinary people trying their best in front of a big danger, and we come to care about their escape attempt more even though we can already discern how their story will end.
During its expected climactic sequence, the movie goes for more suspense and intensity, and there are a series of palpably ferocious moments to impress and thrill you a lot. I was amused a bit by a rather clever way of protecting several vehicles for escape as well as the characters inside them, and I was also surprised to learn later that what unexpectedly occurs at the very end of the sequence is actually not so far from what really happened at that time.
The main cast members of the movie dutifully fill their respective spots. While Kim Yoon-seok holds the center as required, Heo Joon-ho is effective as his counterpart, a number of various supporting players including Jo In-sung, Koo Kyo-hwan, Kim So-jin, and Jung Man-sik bring some life and personality to their functional roles.
On the whole, “Escape from Mogadishu” does not reach to the level of “Argo” and “Black Hawk Down”, but it is recommendable because of its competent aspects including those well-made action scenes in the film, and it is another fine work from director Ryoo Seung-wan, who is mainly known for several notable action films such as “The City of Violence” (2006), “The Berlin File” (2013), and “Veteran” (2015). Compared to the glaring failure of his previous film “The Battleship Island” (2017), “Escape from Mogadishu” certainly looks like an improvement in many ways, and I am glad to see him back in his element.