Steel Rain movie review: This slickly crafted Korean action thriller on Netflix is well worth a watch

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

Mar,20 2018 10:53:10 IST

4/5

Steel Rain, a slickly crafted Korean political action thriller, is a reminder of some of the delicious little films of the genre that we used to see in the late '90s and the early 2000s. There’s espionage, daring high profile assassinations, an unlikely camaraderie between two soldiers from warring nations, mistrust and confusion over lack of communication, and a nuclear threat that could very well lead to the sum of all fears. Directed by Yang Woo-seok, who adapted his own webtoon for the screen, the film successfully blends all these ingredients — and more — to give us a satisfying and delectable dish. That he is able to do so while keeping the story firmly grounded within the milieu and without any trace of Hollywood-isation whatsoever is only to his credit.

A North Korean secret service agent named Eom Chul-woo (played with great restraint and reserve by Jung Woo-sung) is brought back from a narcotic-induced retirement by his superior to assassinate two top military officials who have gone rogue, and who now pose the threat of a coup against the Supreme Leader, referred to throughout the film as ‘Number One’. When Eom reaches an industrial complex to carry out his mission, he realises it is too late, because the coup has begun – and, worst of all, Number One has been caught in the crossfire. As dozens of of Steel Rain bombs land upon the complex pulverising everything, Eom somehow manages to pull out a heavily wounded Number One, with the help of two cheerleaders. Through the ensuing chaos and confusion, the party manages to cross the border and reaches Seoul, in South Korea, searching for medical attention for their leader.

Still from Steel Rain. Image courtesy Netflix

Still from Steel Rain. Image courtesy Netflix

Meanwhile, thinking that the missile strikes were the joint handiwork of South Korea and its ally, the US, North Korea declares war against both. Now in hostile territory, Eom tries to protect Number One’s life, all the while struggling to find out what went wrong. He is soon joined by a bureaucratic aide of the South Korean President, who gets embroiled in the matter when Eom takes his ex-wife hostage because she is a surgeon and can save Number One’s life. This paper-pushing desk clerk named Kwak Chul-woo (played beautifully by the ever so brilliant Kwak Do-won) is going through his own problems – a separation with his wife, estranged children and the transition between the outgoing and incumbent Presidents. Over and above this, he now has to shed his xenophobia, and his inherent ridicule for people from the other side of the border to join hands with a North Korean soldier in order to prevent the complete annihilation of the Korean peninsula.

The best thing about Steel Rain is that the film does not have the relentless (and often meaningless) action that seems to have become to norm of action films these days. Make no mistake though – there’s plenty of action to keep you glued to your seats, but just alongside, there is also a fantastic portrayal of state diplomacy that involves an infuriated China, a waiting-and-watching Japan, a non-committal US and the two Korean nations. As a matter of fact, some of the best scenes of the film are from within conference halls where state leaders keep their nerves and try to assess and analyse the situation before taking such far-reaching decisions as launching weapons of mass destruction. Pre-emptive strategies and simulations are discussed and debated, accusations are made, even as the fate of the two nations hang from a thin line.

On the ground, however, there’s more than that, because not everything is at it seems. No one can be trusted, betrayals are the order of the day and after multiple plot twists, the two protagonists don’t really know for sure who they ought to be fighting for. Amidst all these, there is also the overarching theme of the futility of the division between the two nations many years ago, and a constant appeal for unification. Both Eom and Kwak realise how little they know of each other, and yet, how similar they really are, despite being from the opposite sides of the border. Those of us watching this film in the Indian subcontinent will immediately identify with these themes, and the deep scar that the Partition, for instance, has left on our hearts and our minds. The film reiterates its central theme throughout the film – people who suffer the division of a country suffer less from the division itself, and more in the hands of those who gain from such an unfortunate act.

With these emotions ringing out loud and clear, and with superlative performances by its two leads, supported by some brilliant editing and a fantastic background music, the film easily scores over its somewhat complicated plot, an overwhelming deluge of supporting characters and a slightly slack second half, until it reaches a climax that leaves the viewer both content and emotional at the same time. Do give Steel Rain a try. In a world where people are talking about raising walls, the film comes with a fresh and sensible appeal for erasing borders and reuniting with long-separated kin. And that, in itself, is a marvellous thing.

Steel Rain is currently streaming on Netflix.

Updated Date: Mar 20, 2018 10:53 AM