Escape from Mogadishu review – Koreans bolt through Somali war-zone chaos

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This political drama from South Korea tells the amazing true story of a daring escape by North and South Korean diplomats from Somalia in the early 1990s as all hell breaks loose. It was South Korea’s entry for best international feature at the Oscars and has that highly polished, top-quality solid-weight feel (there are echoes here of Ben Affleck’s best picture winning Argo). What makes it worth the price of a download is a muscle-clenchingly thrilling third act, finishing with an action movie car chase through war-zone chaos.

It’s 1991. Diplomats from North and South Korea in Mogadishu have been competing for Somalia’s vote to decide whether South Korea joins the United Nations. Attempts by South Korean ambassador Han (Kim Yoon-seok) to woo Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre have been repeatedly foiled by his opposite number at the North Korean embassy, wily veteran Rim (Huh Joon-ho). Then Barre is overthrown, the capital descends into anarchy, and the North Koreans come knocking at the South Koreans’ door for sanctuary. An incident as they walk through the capital’s streets confirms something I’ve heard war reporters say: that nothing is scarier than a small child with a loaded gun.

There’s some unexpected humour at the South Korean embassy, like the uncomfortable silence around the dinner table as the North Koreans nervously fiddle with their chopsticks. South Korean ambassador Han clicks what’s happening and swaps plates: the North Koreans are scared of being poisoned by their enemies.

This is a decent, intelligent, well-acted film if a little uninspired until that third act, which packs an almighty punch: staff from both embassies travelling in a convoy of cars through a terrifyingly believable conflict zone: guns firing, Molotov cocktails flying. It’s a shame though that there’s not more curiosity about the Somalian characters, who are to a man (and this a film about men) completely one-dimensional.

Escape from Mogadishu is released on 25 March in cinemas.