Nothern Troubles: Our Review of ‘Escape’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - July 06, 2024
Nothern Troubles: Our Review of ‘Escape’

Arriving in select theatres this weekend from Well Go USA comes a South Korean film about defection in… Korea, Escape. The action film about a daring escape from a Northern soldier harkens back to the overtly nationalist action films from the US in the 80s and 90s in many ways. With a very stringent depiction of life in North Korea under the rule of Kim Jong-Un’s regime, without actually naming the dictator in the film, Escape plays into the 80s action film stereotypes with aplomb.

Sergeant Lim Kyu Nam (Lee Je-hoon) has meticulously been plotting his way across a minefield every evening as he plans desertion to the South. His 10-year mandatory enlistment is nearly up, and after losing his parents over those 10 years, he no longer has ties to his home. Unbeknownst to Nam, another soldier named Dong-Hyuk (Hong Xa-bin) has noticed his nightly excursions, and in a desperate attempt to escape himself tries to take Nam’s map and make a run for it. Nam catches up to Dong-Hyuk. And instead of being persecuted, he is set up as a hero catching a defector by a State Security investigator, Major Ri Hyeon Sang (Koo Kyo-hwan), as the pair knew each other as children. But Nam will not be discouraged and as the clock runs out, he attempts a daring and bold plan to try and secure his freedom.

Escape starts quite well, and is exceptionally paced for a Korean film as the majority of Korean action cinema comes in over 2 hours in length, while this film is just over 90 minutes. The setup and action are well done until we hit a convoluted and downright goofy ending with Nam struggling to get to a literal line in the sand to ensure his freedom. It is schmaltz of the highest order. 

The villains of the piece feel like the film took them from those 80s films I mentioned earlier, imparting feelings of watching Chuck Norris kick the snout out of terrorists of ambiguous nationality in Invasion USA and Delta Force, or Rocky taking on the whole of Russia in Rocky 4. It’s unique to see a Korean film managing to ape what has been happening more now in American action films with the throwback styles we’ve seen from Bad Boys: Ride or Die and now Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.

Lee Je-hoon does a decent job as our leading everyman, but a lot of his job is to look panicked and frazzled as many of his plans go up in smoke. Hong Xa-bin plays the sidekick role to perfection, down to the whole ‘give this to my mom if I don’t survive’ cliche. But the real treat here is the scenery-chewing, manically mugging Koo Kyo-hwan who knows he’s playing a stereotype and fully embraces the absurdity of it all. The final 15 minutes of the film, when he’s supposed to be menacing, carry less weight because of the rest of his performance, but I wouldn’t change that at all.

Hardly a game changer, Escape is still a fun film to watch. Despite the ending being as overwrought with cliches as it is, Escape still has enough fun packed into it to give it a recommendation. Just be ready for an extremely ridiculous ending headed in and you should be good to go.

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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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