Phase9 Entertainment


Even before it opened SHIRI was a risk.

South Korean director Jang's previous movie, a time travelling fantasy romance, was a hit but his new movie had been rewritten twelve times. The cast was loaded with stars and the female lead was fresh off a popular TV miniseries but the budget was the highest to date for a Korean movie (nearly $5 million), and principle sponsor Samsung was watching its performance closely. And, of course, the biggest risk of all was the topic: SHIRI is about reunification with North Korea.

North and South Korea both dream of reunification, but since 1953 they've been fighting a bitter cold war. North Korea, wracked by starvation and strangled by ideology, has dug secret tunnels into South Korea; assassinated South Korean cabinet ministers; hijacked South Korean vessels (the crews usually commit mass suicide); and kidnapped numerous South Korean citizens (including Shin Sang-Ok, widely regarded as South Korea's greatest director in the 50's and 60's).

South Korea, alarmed by its Northern brethren, keeps a tight lid on political movements, arresting thousands of students whom it views as socialist sympathizers and spending millions chasing down every real and perceived threat to its national security.

And here comes an action movie that takes place against this volatile backdrop. Making matters worse, it gives a voice and a face to North Korean politics, humanizing the previously demonised. The last director to attempt this feat was imprisoned for treason back in 1956 and filmmakers have steered clear of the subject ever since. Everyone predicted that Jang had a flop on his hands: a huge, highly anticipated, super-expensive flop.

Everyone was wrong. People turned out in droves to see SHIRI. Quickly becoming the most-watched movie in Korean history, SHIRI beat American movies and it beat Korean movies -- it was a phenomenon the likes of which no one had ever seen. By the end of the year, one in seven Koreans had seen SHIRI. That's a ratio most American producers can only dream of (it would mean a domestic US gross of over $250 million). SHIRI went on to be the first (and highest-priced) Korean film sold to Japan, and one of the few Korean films to be sold to Hong Kong. The movie took number one at the box office in both countries. Additionally, SHIRI launched a nation-wide craze for the "kissing gurami" fish featured in the film, and is now glowingly and repeatedly cited on South Korea's National Intelligence Service page. Finally, not only did North Korean leader Kim Jong Il request a "stolen" print be sent to him for viewing, but the South Korean government arranged a free screening of the movie for all foreign diplomats stationed in Korea.

SHIRI's political impact does not end with Korea. It is ultimately a film with both action and heart and, in today's political and social climate, the themes of SHIRI - political unrest, terrorism, and the difficulty of achieving a resolution satisfactory to all - locate the film as a topical, thought-provoking story with universal resonance.


Jury's Honorary Achievement Award and Best Editing - Asia-Pacific Film Festival.

Best Director - Blue Dragon Awards

Best Director - Korean Directors Association

Best Director - Chungryong Awards

Best Picture - Korean Motion Picture Critics Association Awards

Best Picture and Best Director at Korea Baik-san Arts Awards

Best Film - Golden Bell Awards