Most American moviegoers probably know very little about Somalia’s collapse into unrest and civil war in the early 1990s, and what they do know they learned from Ridley’s “Black Hawk Down” Scott. Now they can add South Korean filmmaker Ryoo Seung-wan’s exciting “Escape From Mogadishu” to that very short list.
Based on an actual incident and against the backdrop of East African geopolitics – in which North Korea and South Korea were involved in the region for their own selfish ends – “Escape From Mogadishu” is a tense look at how underhand political maneuvering, power games and espionage, when mixed with a contempt for the local citizens they work among, can turn into a political horror flick with those who think they are in control of the race for their life. “Escape From Mogadishu” is “Argo” and the fall of Saigon on African soil.
In the late 1980s, South Korea was desperate to join the United Nations, and as many countries that were due to vote on their admission were in Africa, the country launched a campaign to woo local leaders, including the strongman. Somali Mohamed Siad Barre. The film opens with a group of South Korean Embassy officials, including Kang Dae-jin (Jo In-sung, “The Great Battle”) and Han Sin-seong (Kim Yoon-seok), s’ worrying about a small gift that they’re planning to give Barre in order to curry favor with him. On the other side, North Koreans, like officials Rim Yong-su (Huh Joon-ho, “Default”, “Kingdom”) and Tae Joon-ki (Koo Kyo-hwan, “Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula “) – try to thwart South Korea in every turn. In response, the South Koreans accused the North Koreans of selling arms to the rebels.
But as Somalia sank deeper into civil war and lawlessness, and the government, rebels and ordinary Somalis began to prey on foreigners in general, it became clear the time had come. for the game which had served the interests of both Koreas in the past. In 1991, there was only one option for ambassadors and embassy employees: to go out.
It is the basic narrative engine of the ‘Escape from Mogadishu’ propellant, as the two groups of Korean diplomats and their families – cut off from communications and supplies – must plan how to get out of a country in which much of the population wants them dead. Do they put aside their differences to help each other or do they cling to their long-standing animosity?
The question makes for a thrilling and suspenseful action thriller that Ryoo handles with flair, skillfully staging great action scenes – like the final and nerve-racking trailer to a potential salvation – without neglecting the stories. human in their hearts. Don’t be surprised if Hollywood comes knocking on Ryoo’s door in a big way. (It makes the most of Moroccan venues and the film’s announced $ 20 million budget.)
“Escape From Mogadishu” is told from a South Korean perspective – the only reference to the United States is that we are told that American diplomats packed their bags and left the city much earlier – and this ‘is refreshing in a way. But it still means that Somalis are reduced to a mass of corruption and violence, with few distinguishing features. They might as well be zombies with automatic weapons. Maybe one day we will have a film about this conflict from a Somali perspective.
Yet, in its own words, “Escape From Mogadishu” is a compelling and compelling lesson in Korean history.
NOT“Escape from Mogadishu”: Action thriller. With Kim Yoon-seok, Jo In-Sung and Huh Joon-ho. Directed by Ryoo Seung-wan. In Korean with English subtitles. (TV-14. 121 minutes.) Available to watch in select Bay Area theaters Friday, August 6.