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Swiri (1999)

Shiri (Hong Kong/English Title)

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 125 minutes

UK Certificate: 15


Upon its big screen release back in 1999, ‘Shiri’ became the most successful Korean film ever. That’s right – even more successful than that other one. Y’know. The one with, erm, that guy, doing the thing, with the stuff.

So, you might wonder, what is it about this movie that really connected with the good people of Korea? What’s distinct about this film that makes it different from the thick-flowing stream of Western popcorn fodder? What does it have that we haven’t seen before?

That’s the basic line of questioning that was going through my noggin when I stuck the DVD into my machine – and the answer is underwhelming, to say the least. For what ‘Shiri’ is, essentially, is a blatant carbon copy of every no-brain action blockbuster to have spilled out of America in the last 20 years. Clearly, this film wasn’t loved in its native land because it’s different and original – it was loved because it’s not. This is the movie that finally sees Asian cinema latch on to the bolshyness of an Arnie, Stallone or – dare I say it – Steven Seagal movie, and replicate it for its own audience. What a bloody sell-out.

Of course, that’s not to say I completely disliked it. It’s just that the plot – about a gang of North Korean terrorist-types hijacking a powerful explosive and planting it around the city of Seoul – doesn’t do anything any of the ‘Die Hard’ movies haven’t done better. It’s got some nice touches, including the sub-plot about a double-crossing femme fatale and the football match-based finale (that final segment is nicely done, though I ended up just wanting to see the game and started getting annoyed when it kept cutting from the pitch and back to the story!).

What really kills ‘Shiri’ is that it’s self-indulgent when, given how derivative and generic it is, it really has no right to be. Its 125-minute running time verges on the farcical, particularly as you could practically lop off the entire first hour and probably be left with a superior chunk of entertainment. In fact, I spent most of those first 60 minutes thinking I was going to get to use a joke in my review about replacing the “r” in the title with a “t”. Fortunately, it’s not quite as bad as all that.

By all means watch it and enjoy it, but just don’t expect it to be anything different from your average Bruce Willis or Jean-Claude Van Damme action vehicle – and, if you’re a Korean, don’t believe the hype.

It's Got: An incredible exploding woman.

It Needs: To dump the fish talk.

DVD Extras Filmographies, Mark Wyatt’s film notes, a standard ‘making of’ piece, an ‘Asia Extreme’ trailer reel, and a soppy music video entitled ‘When I Dream’. DVD Extras Rating: 6/10


Your average everyday run-of-the-mill action movie – with optional subtitles.