The Age of Shadows (2016) (NTSC)

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Released 6-Sep-2017

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Eastern Eye Trailers x 5
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2016
Running Time 140:014 (Case: 139)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Kim Jee-Woon

Madman Entertainment
Starring Song Kang-ho
Lee Byung-hun
Gong Yoo
Han Ji-min
Eom Tae-goo
Singo Tsurumi

Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Mowg

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

"Who can you call a friend in this age"

     In the late 1920s Japan has occupied Korea although the resistance movement is growing. Police Captain Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho) is a Korean but has chosen to work with the Japanese to capture the resistance leaders even although years before, in Shanghai, he had been part of the resistance himself. Lee learns that the group headed by Jung Chae-san (Lee Byung-hun) is planning to bring explosives into Seoul from Shanghai to blow up Japanese facilities. With the agreement of his Japanese superior Higashi (Singo Tsurumi) Lee starts to infiltrate the group, meeting with photographer, antiques dealer and suspected resistance member Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo) and pretty Yeon Gye-soon (Han Ji-min), who is suspected of being Jung’s secretary. But Higashi, not altogether trusting Lee’s loyalties, adds Hashimoto (Eom Tae-goo) to Lee’s team, and Hashimoto has his own agenda.

     Travelling to Shanghai Lee, through Woo-jin, meets Chae-san. But Lee is being watched by Hashimoto, and a cat and mouse game ensues until the shipment of explosives is loaded onto the train in Shanghai for transport to Seoul. The resistance members also board the train, but they have been betrayed by an informer in their midst and Lee, Hashimoto and Japanese thugs are also on board. Is Lee now sympathetic to the resistance or is he still loyal to the Japanese? As the tension, and the stakes, rise, will anyone survive the train journey to arrive in Seoul where the Japanese are waiting?

     South Korean cinema continues to be perhaps the most innovative and vibrant in East Asia. One of the leading lights is director Kim Jee-woon whose films are always diverse and interesting: he can do bloody crime drama (A Bittersweet Life (2005)), a fabulous eastern western (The Good the Bad the Weird (2008)) and revenge horror (I Saw the Devil (2010)) and he also diverted to Hollywood for an action film (The Last Stand (2013) with Arnold Schwarzenegger). So why not a period spy thriller.

     The Age of Shadows is a handsome looking and flawlessly acted period spy thriller. Indeed, this is a very polished film by Kim which has atmosphere to burn. The colours are manipulated to give a period look; they are muted, with greys and browns dominating in costumes, vehicles and sets, especially the dark streets of Shanghai and Seoul where many sequences are shot at night or in the rain with copious amounts of shadows and diffused light courtesy of cinematographer Kim Ji-yong. However, if anything, these layers of detail, polish and control, plus some brutal and confronting torture scenes, tends to keep the viewer at a distance. There is no romance in the film and most of the protagonists are cold and calculating, especially Lee, as played by Song Kang-ho. He has worked with director Kim Jee-woon four times, including a fabulous turn as “the weird” in The Good the Bad the Weird, and The Age of Shadows is told from his point of view but from the opening action sequence his position is ambivalent and one is never too sure of his loyalties or motivations. The rest of the cast is also strong; Eom Tae-goo is calculating and a bit smarmy, Gong Yoo is good as the more straight-forward “good guy” and Han Ji-min is more than the token female.

     At 140 minutes, The Age of Shadows is a lengthy film and it does tend to meander a bit in the middle section. But once the train leaves Shanghai, director Kim builds the tension and when the action explodes it is well-staged, both in the narrow confines of the train and in the open, crowded station in Seoul where the Japanese soldiers are waiting. If anything, this sequence feels like a climax, but the film has a few more twists and turns to come.

     The Age of Shadows has been nominated for numerous awards around Asia and was South Korea’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. It is indeed an impressive film; Kim Jee-woon’s slant on the period spy thriller which maintains his high standards.

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Transfer Quality


     The Age of Shadows is in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is 16x9 enhanced.

     The colours are muted and the brown palate gives the film a period look and feel. Although many scenes are dark, the print handles them perfectly; detail is crystal clear, blacks solid and shadow detail excellent although some scenes with the light source behind the actor are deliberately glary. Brightness and contrast are otherwise consistent, skin tones natural. I noticed no marks or artefacts.

    The layer change at 69:16 resulted in a slight pause at a scene change.

     The removable white English subtitles were clear and error free.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The only audio is Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 Kbps, although there are sections of Japanese dialogue plus a few English sentences.

     Dialogue was clean. The surrounds and rears featured music, rain, voices in the street and thunder and in the action sequences added shots, impacts, bodies clashing into furniture and the like. The subwoofer added depth to the action without calling attention to itself. The original score by Mowg was effective. It was supported by the classical music of Dvorak and Franz Schubert while Ravel’s Bolero featured extensively during the climax.

     Lip synchronisation was fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Theatrical Trailer (1:45)

Cast Interviews (5:21)

     A brief EPK as, in turn, Song Kang-ho, Gong Yoo, Han Ji-min and Eom Tae-goo mostly talk about their characters. Somewhat strangely, they are not identified when they speak.

Eastern Eye Trailers

     Death Note: Light Up the New World (1:44), Shin Godzilla (1:22), Ip Man 3 (1:24), Yakuza Apocalypse (1:07), and Garm Wars: The Last Druid (0:40).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There is a Region 3 Korean two DVD release of The Age of Shadows which has an audio commentary, making of, video, deleted scenes and other extras. The feature has English subtitles but there is no information about whether the extras also have English subtitles; from past experience mostly they don’t. The US and UK versions seem to be without extras.


     The Age of Shadows is another impressive film by Kim Jee-woon. He has obviously been noticed in the west as The Age of Shadows is Warner Bros. first ever Korean production. If period spy thrillers are of interest, this film is definitely worth a look. It will be intriguing to see what Kim, as well as Song Kang-ho, may do next.

     The video and audio are very good; extras are minor.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Thursday, December 21, 2017
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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