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South Korea 2023

Thriller, Action

Kim Seong-hun

Ha Jung-woo
Ju Ji-hoon
Im Hyeong-gook
Kim Eung-soo
Kim Jong-soo
Park Hyuk-kwon
Yoo Seung-mok

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Ransomed - Film Screenshot 1

Story: In 1986, Lebanon is in the middle of a civil war. At that time, a Korean diplomat is kidnapped by terrorists and disappears. No one asks for a ransom, and nobody hears from him for over a year. Then one day, diplomat Lee Min-joon (Ha Jung-woo) answers the phone and hears Morse code, which clearly has to come from the missing Korean. Lee informs his superiors, and they decide to sort the whole thing out on the quiet. They are willing to pay a ransom through a middleman, but this cannot go out in the public. The possibilities are therefore limited, but the Korean secret service KCIA gets wind of it and gets involved too. In the end, it is agreed that Lee Min-joon himself is going to ransom the diplomat. Lee volunteered because he was passed over when it came to filling a post in an embassy overseas, and now he hopes to earn enough points with this to get a job in the US. When Lee arrives in Lebanon, his contact tells him about a taxi driver he is supposed to find at the airport. Unfortunately, the corrupt airport security heard that Lee wants to ransom someone and is hunting him down. So, Lee immediately jumps into Kim Pan-soo's (Ju Ji-hoon) taxi when he realizes that he is Korean. Pan-soo struggles through life in Lebanon since the embassy there was closed, and he is now persuaded to drive Lee around for money. But he is also a fraud and so Lee has to watch out for his money while a terrorist organization also received information about Lee's assignment and is hunting for his money as well...

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Review: Korea has found a new niche for gripping action. Preferably espionage-like thrillers based on true stories in the Middle East. A few years ago, "Ransomed" could have been quite the surprise thanks to its setting, but after the success of "Escape from Mogadishu" and "The Point Men" from 2023, the flick seems more like a work that wants to ride those movies' wave of success. However, it's definitely not a cheap knock-off, because even though the buddy story is reminiscent of the one in "The Point Men", the chemistry between the characters is quite different. The action is also spread throughout the movie quite nicely and is pretty convincing. But that doesn't change the fact that the action thriller is also sprinkled with clichés which makes it a little unoriginal - starting with the plot.

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The reasons for Lee volunteering to go to Lebanon seem far-fetched, and the kind of courage that this assignment requires is not something we can make out in Lee's character. So, there's always a discrepancy between Lee's choices and the personality we see on screen. In addition, the plot is packaged in a more complex way than would have been necessary. As if the filmmakers just wanted to put in some twists or add a few nice flourishes. This is already quite obvious when it comes to finding a contact who brings them into contact with another contact in order to finally smuggle the ransom into Lebanon. The secret service probably doesn't take the word "secret" too seriously either because the security officials at the airport are informed about Lee's arrival and assignment, and so are all terrorist organizations in the country. If you look at it matter-of-factly, this actually has all it takes to be a comedy.

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However, danger lurks around every corner, and the actions of the terrorists and the "organization" that helps Lee constantly make that clear. The movie isn't particularly bloody, but small details like the diplomat who has been kidnapped for over a year and the mental state he is in make us feel the horror that the civil war has caused in the country. The whole thing is loosened up a bit by a buddy story between Lee and the taxi driver Pan-soo. Ju Ji-hoon ("Gentleman") obviously has fun with his somewhat easygoing role and doesn't get tangled up in stereotypes, instead he stays in the role of a possible antagonist for quite a while, and his fixation on money makes it difficult for Pan-soo and Lee to trust each other. Unfortunately, the clichés come through here when his conscience inevitably catches up with him and he suddenly takes on greater dangers than seems fitting for the initial portrayal of his personality.

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As mentioned before, Ha Jung-woo ("The Closet") has to struggle with a rather inconsistent character, but he works as the hero of the story. Still, the villains are completely insignificant, which is a pity. Next to a few elements of surprise, like the obligatory car bomb and various car chases, director Kim Seong-hun ("Tunnel") also adds a few casual moments that make "Ransomed" work quite well as a movie with mainly entertainment value. This is also reflected in some of the action scenes that aren't quite as serious, such as a climbing tour on a house. The mixture of suspense and humor is a balancing act that the director already managed in "A Hard Day" and it is clearly the movie's strength. On the other hand, domestic political skirmishes, which are reeled off in fast forward in the background, represent the movie's weakness which unnecessarily blows up the script.

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The finale then offers an appealing chase scene and the epilogue tries to touch us emotionally, with moderate success. Sadly, the script seems overloaded, and the director loses focus too often. The setting is also not as fresh for a Korean action thriller as it used to be a few years ago. In addition, the 132 minutes feel too long. In its strongest moments, however, "Ransomed" kind of reminds you of action cinema of the 2000s, no excessive bombast or CGI. Some of the buddy moments also manage to win you over. Unfortunately, the overall package isn't put together properly and too often you get the feeling that the movie took its cue from the two pioneer movies of the subgenre mentioned at the beginning, but without seriously contributing any new ideas. If it's mild entertainment you are after, though, you are on the safe side with "Ransomed".

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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