Edited by Hong Hyun Jung
Translated by Cho EK
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, two Korean films came out at the same time: The 20-billion-dollar blockbuster Escape from Mogadishu based on a true story and The Cursed: Dead Man’s Prey, a movie adaptation of a drama series.
Director Ryoo Seung Wan’s Escape from Mogadishu features the life-or-death struggle involving South and North Korean diplomats in Somalia during the 1991 civil war. Based on a true story, the film drew attention by uniting two individuals from clashing nations, transcending the difference in ideology and system.
The Cursed: Dead Man’s Prey is a film adaptation of the well-received drama series with a fresh theme that combines Korean shamanism and occultism. Director Yeon Sang Ho exec produced the adaptation as well as the drama series and created rich content with Korean-style zombies and Indonesian voodoo magics.
The two works with different subject matter, content, and genres were both released on July 28 but saw contrasting box office reports. Escape from Mogadishu started on a high note and marked the best opening gross of 2021 in Korea. On the other hand, The Cursed is having a rough start, taking a backseat to The Boss Baby: Family Business and Jungle Cruise.
The charm of Escape from Mogadishu lies in the fact that it has expressed the true story of the deadly escape with dynamic events full of intensity without being a tearjerker. The film refrained from passing out overly emotional scenes and achieved satisfying catharsis, living up to the expectations as the biggest summer blockbuster of 2021.
The film focuses on achieving escape and providing a realistic viewing experience so that the audience can feel as if they were in the middle of a civil war. The fact that the movie was shot in Morocco not only provides the beautiful exotic scenery to the film but also perfectly creates a fatal space that leaves no choice for the characters but to risk their lives to escape, elevating the vividness of the film to its maximum. The great tension that the space exudes plays such a big role in creating the overall atmosphere of the movie. And the desperate escape to the Italian embassy is full of intense and heart-pounding scenes.
The acting was great. The actors cleverly filled in gaps in the narrative and characters by vividly playing their roles and gave the movie a sense of reality. Director Ryoo Seung Wan did a wonderful job overcoming his previous, critically condemned work, The Battleship Island. He boldly went with the movies’ goal and strength throughout the whole narrative.
Of course, the movie isn’t perfect. Although many characters contribute to the narratives, it needs more vitality, and the tension between the two Koreas is rather shallowly portrayed. The scene where the characters say goodbye to one another on the plane reminds us of the sad reality we face now, but the movie does not explore the tragedy any further. However, despite some of the shortcomings, it is clear that it is a decent blockbuster.
What’s interesting about The Cursed: Dead Man’s Prey is that the movie has such a novel and original subject matter. The original drama series attracted viewers with the magic called Bang Beop. It is a curse that can make a person die with his or her photograph, belongings, and the Chinese characters of his or her name. However, the film adaptation attempts to tweak the story a little by adding a reanimated corpse called Jaechaeui, which appears in ancient books of the Joseon Dynasty. Jaechaeui is a kind of Korean zombie. Unlike the conventional zombies, it moves under the control of the shaman who casts a spell. In a way, it is a new expansion of the original drama, The Cursed, with its unique universe embracing occultism.
The biggest concern the production team may have been the fact that the film itself has high barriers to start watching. The film keeps its original characters from the drama series but deals with a new event that begins three years after where the drama had left off. It follows the occult investigation genre tropes with the main character, journalist Lim Jin Jee, who receives a mysterious phone call from a murder, tracing the case. Yeon Sang Ho maintains his critical view of society by using Lim Jin Hee, who tracks corporate corruption. On top of that, Jaechaeui’s action scenes provide good additional entertainment.
Making a film adaptation was a good attempt, but the movie hardly does more than that. The film is fast, but the structure of the story is not tight enough. It tries to fill the loose narrative with occult elements or action scenes using Jaechaeui. Still, the element does not smoothly blend into the narrative and ends up being mere sporadic events. It is nice to see female characters ruling in the story, but they do not have a lasting grip on the viewers. And the fact that the hero Jeong Ji So appears so late makes the movie a little slow. Above all, bland direction and unimpressive art do not bring out the charm of the subject matter of occultism. The film is scheduled to make another TVING original series Goe’i, with a new protagonist. I wonder if the new work will make up for the letdowns in the movie adaptation.
Edited Hong Hyun Jung: I am a K-content guide who publishes various articles for people to enjoy Korean movies and dramas deeper and richer. I’ll introduce you to the works that you can laugh, cry and sympathize with.
Translator Cho EK: I’m a big fan of Korean dramas and movies