Before the advent of DVD the variety of World Cinema available to those of us here in the UK seemed depressingly small, even within the relatively popular worlds of the Hong Kong Action movie and Japanese Animation, quality video releases were still few and far between with the majority of titles chosen almost exclusively on the motifs of sex and violence (and even then films received heavy cuts!). Of course, now with the DVD format titles from all over the world are becoming easier and easier to obtain and for that reason I am only now beginning to realise how deprived we all once were. Because of this revelation I have expanded my outlook to include titles from countries I may have otherwise ignored, so on the recommendation of top Hong Kong action website, Bullets N Babes, I looked to the (violent!) Korean title, Shiri, as my next brave step into the ever-increasing world of cinema!
Shiri centres its story around two special agents (Ryu and Lee, portrayed by Han Suc Kyu and Sung Kang Ho respectively) who are on the trail of the dangerous female assassin, Hee. After several failed attempts at capture Hee has begun to haunt our protagonists, this is for a good reason though as it soon becomes apparent that Hee and the North Korean Revolutionary Army that she is a part of have far more sinister plans afoot involving a devastating new form of liquid explosive. Few films can survive on their action-based antics alone so within the story we see that Ryu is unequivocally head over heels in love with his fiancée Hyun (a recovering alcoholic played by Kim Yun Jin). A girlfriend in the context of an action movie always spells trouble but this is where Shiri works so well in that Hyun is brought into the firing line with both an interesting twist and some quite devastating results.
From the brutally violent opening scenes where we see Hee training to become part of the North Korean Revolutionary Army it is quite obvious Shiri is going to be quite different to anything Hollywood can offer. Although these harrowing scenes do not continue throughout Shiri does contain its fair share of violence, mostly brought about by the excellent bouts of (not quite balletic) gunplay. Influences are obvious, one scene reminds me of the street based shootout in Heat, another of the now famous Coffee House sequence from John Woos Hard Boiled, yet every action sequence becomes its own, be it down to the military style use of weapons (not much two gun action here!) or the method of relaying the action via handheld camera (making the action seem less choreographed but more frantic) Shiri creates its own style that leads to an extremely tense atmosphere that peaks in the gripping finale.
Offering a great cast who deliver the goods (particularly Choi Min Sik who plays bad guy Park), a director (Kang Je Gyu) who combines a well told love story interwoven with the fast moving action based drama, and of course the many exciting (and sometimes quite brutal) action sequences Shiri manages to overcome the slightly derivative premise, an overly long ending and some general pacing issues and it is for these reasons that Shiri comes recommended to both fans of Hong Kong Cinema and those in need of a general action fix.
This DVD was purchased from Movietyme for £21.99. Released by Bitwin this Korean DVD is actually coded for all regions (R0) so providing your DVD/TV combo is capable of displaying an NTSC picture (in either pure NTSC or PAL60) this DVD can be enjoyed by all. Special mention must be made for the superb Gatefold style packaging that not only has an excellent design but also a fantastic silver sheen reminiscent of the R1 X-Men package.
Originally shot at a 1:66:1 aspect ratio the Director reframed the film for this DVD release which is presented at a 1:77:1 aspect ratio (thanks to Bullets N Babes for this information) with anamorphic enhancement. The print used is generally free of dirt but the occasional white speck does make itself known as well as a slight judder in the picture for a brief second (when Ryu is checked out his apartment). Grain is present throughout and is really the only detriment to the quality of a picture that shares a lot in common with the more recent Hong Kong movies. Detail is generally quite high while colours are rendered particularly well (from the lush greens of the opening fields to the superb blues of the fish tanks), black levels do however suffer with certain dark scenes (again, when Ryu is checking out his apartment) showing increased levels of grain and sudden drops in detail all with an irritating blue tint. While the picture quality is not as good as I would have expected for such a recent title Shiri still contains many standout sequences and should not be shunned for its relatively minor visual failings.
Bitwin have provided a decent selection of both Audio and Subtitle tracks for their Special Edition release of Shiri. The Original Korean Language Soundtrack is provided in both Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 options with the bonus of a DTS 5.1 track present. I chose to watch Shiri utilising the DTS track, as I tend to prefer the extra oomph that the DTS sound format usually offers. As you would expect from a modern film Shiri utilises the full soundstage but unfortunately only to what I consider to be of a reasonable degree. In busy environments the background noise surrounds the room and during the various action scenes the gunfire and explosions are spread across the entire stage as you here gunfire and bullet hits from all corners. The rotation from a Helicopters blades and the sound of a rifle bullet create some fantastic panning effects and the subwoofer is used to accentuate bullet hits while also creating a fantastic rumble as a building collapses. The one major problem I had with this track was how music was ONLY presented via the front speakers, so when there is no background noise the soundstage feels empty which for a film (any film for that matter) of this genre just seems both strange and such a waste. A rare feature was the ability to choose between the DTS and Dolby Digital tracks via the Audio button on your remote control. When switching between the two I noticed a pronounced improvement in clarity and general involvement with the DTS track although the Dolby Digital track manages to holds its own especially when you crank it up to meet the extra volume already present within the DTS offering.
The English subtitles present on this release are of a high standard, presented in an easy to read White font the only problem I noticed was the occasional lack of a space between words (this occurs a few times).
Apart from the Cast and Crew profiles (in Korean text) present on Disc one and a high quality 12-page booklet (again, in Korean text) all remaining extras are located on disc two. Below is a full rundown of those extra features - please note that unless specified ALL extras are in Korean only with NO English subtitles.
What "Shiri" Symbolises: 2 pages of text (Korean) that contains information about the films story and the fish of the same name.
Directors Cut: The cut of the film present on this DVD is the Directors Cut, but unlike most cuts of this type rather than add in footage the director has cut out a small scene. This section of the disc contains both the Directors Cut version and the original Theatrical Cut version of the scene in question.
N.G.Scenes: A selection of Outtakes that include some genuinely funny moments, but of course the line goofs are lost on the non-Korean speaking among us.
Interviews: Available in this section are three sets of interviews...
Cast & Crew: Running for an impressive 30 minutes this section contains interviews with the principal cast and crew. Although all speech goes un-translated it is still well worth your time as it includes some excellent Behind the Scenes footage showcasing several major sequences in the movie and highlights the various injuries suffered by the actors, the training regime they undertook and finally a look at the huge publicity that surrounded the film upon its release.
C.G & Special Effects & Stunts: With a modest 8 minute running time this section features interviews with the various effects artists and stunt co-ordinators and again, despite the lack of English subtitles the abundance of behind-the-scenes footage make this worthy of a look. Included within are some great looks at the make-up effects for the various bullet wounds as well as an extremely realistic looking dummy that was created for one of the more violent scenes in the film.
Music & Dubbing & Recording: Another set of interviews, this time with the various sound technicians and artists utilised for Shiri. Behind-the-scenes footage includes an interesting look at Choi Min Sik (Park) dubbing his lines and a full orchestra at work. This is the least interesting of the Interview featurettes due to its relative lack of behind-the-scenes footage.
Behind Stories: This section contains three short montages of footage focusing on the films reception.
Audience & Cast Reviews: Here we see interviews with the Cast and Crew as well as cinemagoers who all give their opinion on Shiri, also included is some footage of the huge queues that formed for this hit film.
Broadcasting News: This section features Television News Broadcasts that again focus on the huge success of Shiri, and wait, stop the press, there is an interview with an English speaking 'person' that lasts for around 5 seconds!
Production Notes This small featurette shows the cast and crew as they prepare for the various press conferences, photograph sessions and interviews that were arranged to advertise the film.
Making of Shiri: Forget your glossy American promotional featurettes this is the real deal. Featuring raw behind-the-scenes on set footage (and the occasional finished scene as a comparison) with the Cast and Crew this feature gets up close and personal with the filmmakers at work. However, it does begin to drag, as without any English subtitles the inclusion of the cast and crews discussions on various scenes becomes a little redundant meaning you only get to enjoy the visuals. Although the large majority of this footage is new there is also some repetition of footage from the Interviews section.
Music Video 'When I Dream': Exactly as the title suggests, this is a music video of the song that features at the end of the film. The song is actually in English and is presented with various scenes from the movie cut together in a trailer like fashion.
Theatrical Trailers: Presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen are the original Theatrical Trailers for both Korea and Japan, as well as a 4:3 Japanese TV Spot.
Gun Index: This section features technical information for 14 weapons (all presumably featured in the film) but apart from the pictures and dimensions/weight/clip capacity information everything else is in Korean text so is again of little use.
Digital Audio Experience: Present here are 4 Dolby Digital Trailers (Train, Helicopter and two Egyptian ones) and a single DTS Trailer (with the Raptor screams). These are a welcome addition as it saves you hunting through your DVDs when you fancy watching these always sonically impressive trailers.
Cast & Directors Profiles: Hurrah, an English text based supplement! Profiles on the director and six cast members are provided as well as links to a short interview (in Korean) for all but one of the cast members.
As you can see the second disc features a highly comprehensive look at the making of Shiri. The majority of the features are easy to follow due to the large amount of strictly behind the scenes footage but alas the discussions between the cast and crew are meaningless as are the various interviews. If we ever see a Western release of Shiri with all extras intact with proper English subtitles then it will surely make for a highly interesting viewing experience (especially for budding filmmakers).
Although marred by the occasional pacing issue Shiri more than makes up for any low points with its myriad of exciting action sequences that are made all the more exciting by the interesting twist that is introduced at the half way point. This DVD is a quality package that offers a decent audio/visual showcase as well as some superb (although slightly reduced in value for those who cannot speak/read Korean) extra features.