By rights, Escape from Mogadishu, a based-on-real-life mash-up of Argo-style diplomatic caper, political drama and balls-to-the-wall survival thriller, should be a dud. The gear shift between those genres should leave you with whiplash. Happy days, it’s actually great: a different kind of apocalyptic Korean spectacular to Train to Busan but equally worth the ride
It’s 1991 and Somalia’s South Korean ambassador, Han Sin-seong (Kim Yoon-seok), and his North Korean counterpart, Rim Yong-su (Huh Joon-ho), are both trying to bribe Somalia’s corrupt President Barré into supporting their countries’ UN bids. But it’s all a red herring. Soon, civil war has broken out, Mogadishu is up in flames and the two old rivals, and their entourages, are teaming up and swerving rebels with AK-47s in a desperate bid to stay alive.
If you’ve seen Black Hawk Down, set in the same city two years later, you’ll know that this is no easy task. Filmed in Morocco, ‘Escape from Mogadishu’ replicates this violent hellscape with a satisfying sense of scale. Director Ryoo Seung-wan (Veteran) doesn’t sugarcoat the chaos – gruesome corpses litter the streets and burnt-out cars block potential escape routes – and the rapid escalation of stakes, from scheming to join the UN to trying not to be flambéed in an embassy Volvo, is seamless and stark.
If Hollywood needs someone to direct a Fast & Furious movie, they might want to give Ryoo a call
You can tell Ryoo loves Hong Kong action cinema. His camerawork is nimble and elastic, and his starchy diplomats are unexpectedly great at martial arts. But the character scenes are well-handled too, and there’s a smart critique here on a divided country that can’t even be truly unified in a shared crisis.
But he knows what we’re really here for and expertly cranks up the tension, leading up to a virtuoso, hell-for-leather car chase involving a convoy of vehicles with books strapped to them (it’ll make sense when you see it). If Hollywood is looking for someone to take on the next Fast & Furious movie, they might want to give him a call.
In UK cinemas Mar 25.