Escape from Mogadishu – London Korean Film Festival 2021

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Breaking box office records in South Korea, Escape from Mogadishu is a tour de force of filmmaking that skilfully combines political turbulence, civil war, diplomatic niceties with a breath-taking car chase through the city.

The two Korean missions to Somalia 1990 are in competition for the attention of the government. The South are looking for African backing for their bid to join the UN after a period of dictatorship while the long present North are interested in maintaining good relations with view to encouraging much needed trade and messing with the South as a bonus. There is no trust between them, and each mission is awash with gossip and rumours about each other.

However the country is far from peaceful with endemic corruption polluting the population there’s ample for agitators to work with and manipulate. Street protests turn ugly with the government using all necessary force to dampen it, which leads to an escalation when armed rebel forces gain a foothold vastly complicating the government and diplomatic agencies.

As the violence increases it becomes clear that they have to clear out. This proves complicated with the South having minimal experience in any sort of diplomatic measures and the North, having wasted their contacts, can no longer rely on the Chinese.

Forced out of their embassy the North led by Ambassador Rim Yong-su (Joon-ho Huh) end up at the South’s embassy led by Han Shin-sung (Kim Yoon-seok) which is guarded by government troops until the money runs out. Its an uneasy truce even a meal is complicated. Diplomatic contacts with Italy get them a flight with complications and they have to get the two missions to the Italian embassy through what is fair to call bandit country.

If you have any experience of the diplomatic world (I do) a lot of this will be familiar. The protocols and language and titles that they have. Counsellor isn’t what you may think it means and the competition between the two is an interesting dynamic contrasting experience of newbie Kang Dae-jin (Zo In-sung) and the North’s Joon-ki Tae (Koo Kyo-hwan) who come over as rutting stags while the older heads plot an escape.

However director Seung-wan Ryoo (co-written with Ki-cheol Lee) digs deeper here than politics and ideology. There’s a profoundly human base as the missions begin to trust each other despite the efforts of the Counsellors. And with this the knowledge that the North mission whatever they may desire (and not all are that keen on what the South has to offer) can’t as they have to leave a child behind to discourage defection.

This is also quite a funny film as the mission’s trudge through diplomatic protocols that throw up complications.

However it’s the escape through Mogadishu that will mark this film out. Four cars covered in books and sandbags as makeshift defence they high set out only to be confronted by government forces and rebel bullets. This is high-octane action filmmaking with some incredible camera work that will take you out of your seat.

Yet the ending as syrupy as it is may be, strikes a chord of optimism that there can be, if not full reconciliation, with the North at least a better understanding of each other.

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