By Kim Eun-jung
SEOU, Jan. 12 (Yonhap) -- "Phantom" is a gripping, action-packed spy action flick set in Korea under the Japanese colonial rule in the 1930s, featuring director Lee Hae-young's stylish mise-en-scene and compelling characters.
Inspired by Chinese writer Mai Jia's 2009 novel "The Wind," the story begins with an underground anti-Japanese organization's failed attempt to assassinate the new Japanese resident-general on his first day in Seoul.
The Japanese colonial government gathers five suspects in a remote hotel on a seaside cliff to hunt down the spy, code-named "phantom," within a day.
Among the suspects is Murayama Junji (Seol Kyung-gu), an elite Japanese police officer from a prestigious family who has been sidelined to a communications supervisor of the police bureau.
Park Cha-kyung (Lee Ha-nee) is an employee at the bureau's communications department and from a rich Korean family, and Mr. Cheon (Suh Hyun-woo) works as a Korean code breaker.
Yuriko (Park So-dam) is a powerful secretary to a high-ranking officer at the Japanese colonial government but is actually a Korean.
Mahara Kaito (Park Hae-soo), the security guard chief of the new Japanese resident-general, takes charge of the operation to expose the spy network.
Caught up in the game of life and under close scrutiny by the Japanese authorities, the suspects snoop around the rooms and search others' belongings to clear their suspicions.
When Kaito ratchets up pressure with evidence and testimonies from the suspects in a dining room, the action mode is turned on and the situation takes a chaotic turn.
Shoot-outs and fist fights take place and hand grenades explode, setting fires and cutting the electricity of the building.
There are certainly winners in the game, but the story doesn't end there to keep the thrills till the end. The resistance group is determined to complete the mission of assassinating the high stakes target.
The intriguing plot builds up tension with multilayered characters, which are well portrayed by impressive acting, stylish costumes and dynamic action scenes.
Director Lee, behind "Believer" (2018) and "The Silenced" (2015), creates the classic, elegant atmosphere in the beautiful hotel and the dynamic camera angle adds depth to the characters' narratives.
Sol portrays the complex emotion of Junji, who is fluent in both Japanese and Korean and appears as an enigmatic character hiding a tragic family story.
Lee Ha-nee and Park So-dam play strong women characters, who are at first engaged in an emotional tug-of-war and later forge a bond under the extreme situation. They don't hesitate to fight against armed soldiers and seem to be trained to use lethal weapons.
The movie deals with Korean independence fighters in a harsh time but doesn't delve deep into the recurring historic subject or try to give history lessons to the audience.
It rather leaves questions of what a country and a family means to an individual in a critical juncture of life.
"Phantom" will hit local screens Wednesday.
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