By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Jan. 16 (Yonhap) -- "The Point Men" sheds light on the 2007 South Korean hostage crisis in Afghanistan by focusing on the desperate rescue efforts, walking the fine line between what happened on stage and behind the scenes.
The film's director and screenwriter Yim Soon-rye deals with the sensitive subject by following two fictional protagonists behind the nail-biting moment of the hostage rescue operation.
At the forefront are Jeong Jae-ho (Hwang Jung-min), a senior foreign ministry official specializing in crisis negotiations, and Park Dae-shik (Hyun Bin), a National Intelligence Service agent with expertise in the Middle East and Central Asia.
The drama faithfully revisits the real incident based on news reports and clips but recreates the behind-the-scenes negotiations largely unknown to the public.
In July 2007, 23 South Korean missionaries are taken hostage by the Taliban, and a South Korean negotiation team is dispatched to Afghanistan.
The Taliban demands Seoul withdraw its forces from Afghanistan and the Afghan government release Taliban prisoners in exchange for the hostages.
At first, Jeong sticks to the hostage negotiator's playbook. He refuses to negotiate with the terrorist group or prepare a ransom.
In contrast, Park tries to solve the crisis with whatever it takes. He still harbors a traumatic memory of witnessing the execution of a South Korean in Iraq, reminiscent of Kim Sun-il, who was kidnapped and beheaded by Iraqi insurgents in 2004.
After initial talks fail, two male hostages are executed in the span of a few days.
As the negotiation team stands at a crossroads, the diplomat and spy agent team up for the same goal: to win the freedom of the remaining hostages.
The climax occurs in the last part of the film, when Jeong sits down with a Taliban commander in an underground cave.
The movie hints at the Seoul government paying the ransom in exchange for the safety of the captured missionaries.
In fact, the Taliban later claimed it had received some US$20 million from the Seoul government in exchange for the safety of the captured missionaries.
South Korea brought home some 200 troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2017 to end its five-year deployment. The troops withdrawal had been planned ahead of the hostage incident.
Although the drama recounts the traumatic incident of South Korea's worst hostage crisis, it still offers entertainment with a well-calibrated plot and an impressive performance by veteran actors.
Hwang, who starred in many hit films, including "Ode to My Father" (2014), "Veteran" (2015) and "The Wailing" (2016), to name a few, skillfully portrays the crisis negotiator's changing state of mind to rescue the hostages.
Hyun, a fan-favorite who played a North Korean agent in the 2017 action comedy "Confidential Assignment" and its 2022 sequel, demonstrates his proven action skills in a car chase scene, amplifying tension at a critical moment.
"The Point Men" hits local theaters Wednesday.
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