Based on the events of the 1990 Somalain civil war, Escape From Mogadishu pushes tensions to their limit before giving a final burst of action. 

A tense political thriller directed by Seung-wan Ryu, Escape From Mogadishu is based on a true story. It tells the tale of the 1990 Somalian civil war from the perspective of South and North Korean diplomats trying to escape the country’s capital city as it becomes a war zone. When the Somalian government provides no aid, the two opposing sides realise they need to work together if they want to get out alive.

The film was South Korea’s entry for the 2022 Oscars, and is full of suspense – though it takes its time to meticulously lay out the political backdrop before diving into any action. The two groups must often hide from both rebel and government forces alike, and the lack of distinction between friend and foe heightens the sense of danger running through the film. The action isn’t always high-octane or explosive, but when it is, it really pulls it off. The outstanding example of this is a nail-bitingly tense car chase that ramps up the audience’s stress levels and is the film’s highlight.

The only disappointment in this regard is the underuse of In-Sung Jo’s character, Councillor Kang. Early on, we see him practising some martial arts moves, with a taxi driver jokingly comparing him to Bruce Lee. While this appears to be a massive piece of foreshadowing, the moment leads to very little payoff beyond one (admittedly very well- choreographed) fight.

However, the cast performances are collectively great. Kim Yoon-seok and Joon-ho Huh are the standout performers, playing Ambassadors Han and Rim from South and North Korea, respectively. The two triumph at exuding constant wariness towards one another, but also a tentative sense of hope. On the opposite end of the spectrum are In-Sung Jo’s Kang and North Korean Councillor Tae (played by Kyo-hwan Koo). The pair are immediately at each other’s throats, with both actors showing an aptitude for displaying a quick and explosive temper that’s scene-stealing when provoked.

While Escape From Mogadishu is set in the middle of the Somalian conflict, the focus is always on the Korean protagonists, and characters aren’t portrayed as binary good or evil. This is both a blessing and a curse. When applied to the Korean protagonists, it makes for some very moving moments. The magnitude of the conflict strips away the political differences between the groups, leaving only vulnerable people in need of each other’s help. But for the Somalian characters, it results in a lack of humanisation. Atrocious violence is committed on both sides, with little explanation of the rebels’ cause. It’s in the representation of the Somalian characters that the film lets itself down.

Escape From Mogadishu is a suspenseful thriller that, at least where the Korean characters are concerned, chooses people over politics. The protagonists are easy to root for, and the action will have you on the edge of your seat.

Escape From Mogadishu is out now.

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