Film Review: Bye-Bye North Korea in “Escape”

talju escape 2024 korean film movie - movie poster one sheetSergeant Lim Gyu-nam (Lee Je-hoon) has been a faithful soldier with the North Korean Army for the last decade, one of the DMZ guards who ensures that North Koreans don’t slip through the border to South Korea. Except he’s got a secret: He is desperate to leave the stifling and repressive world of his homeland and do the one thing he’s supposed to prevent: Escape.

One of his underlings and best friends Dong-hyuk (Hong Xa-bin) sees him reconnoitering a possible escape route and pleads to go along too. They’ve mapped the minefield but a monsoon is forecast that will cause the mines to slip and move. Gyu-nam considers waiting, but Dong-hyuk cannot wait and gets caught trying to burrow under the base security fence.

Just when things look grim, Major Hyeon-sang (Koo Kyo-hwan) of the National Security Department rescues Gyu-nam, showering him with praise for apprehending a deserter (Dong-hyuk). It turns out that Major Hyeon-sang and Sergeant Gyu-nam have a long history together and the Major soon promotes him to adjunct for one of the bigwigs in the department. Retirement after his ten years? “What were you going to do with your life anyway?”

Gyu-nam still dreams of South Korea – his mantra is “fear a meaningless life, not death” – and finally takes his chance and runs! Major Hyeon-sang initially sees it as an amusing choice but soon gets vengeful and sends an ever-increasing squad to apprehend him before he reaches the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and thence South Korea.

publicity still from escape 2024 korean action film

Gyu-nam (Je-hoon) and Dong-hyuk (Xa-bin), from “Escape”

Talju (“Escape”) is a curious and engaging cat-and-mouse action thriller by director Lee Jong-pil. It’s also a comedy of mishaps and wry satirical tale of North Korean military culture that’s woven into a tense chase film, leaving the viewer sometimes unsure how to react to a scene. There’s also a homoerotic element to the story that’s hinted at but not explicitly addressed.

The landscapes are all quite beautiful, with lush forests and rolling meadows that go to the horizon, not what I expected from the DMZ. To be fair, though, there’s also a reliance on tropes and predictable story elements. The film moves along at a brisk pace, making these seem more like inevitable nods to popular cinema than flaws in the storyline or script.

While I was occasionally confused by the endless tonal shifts of the movie, I enjoyed Escape and found it quite exciting and very well assembled. There’s a surreal sense about some of the story elements (people seem to heal from gunshots while running through forests, for example) but that also contributes to the fairy tale nature of the movie. The viewer is left considering whether it is indeed the case that a meaningless life would be worse than dying while pursing your dream. Recommended.

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dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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