There have been many movies made about North Korea and South Korea coming together under various premises, from ping-pong to the demilitarized zone, this one though, is based on a true story.
We are in Somalia, Mogadishu to be precise and it’s 1990. South Korea are yet to be given a seat at the UN and are in Somali to try and gather their help to get that seat. The North Koreans meanwhile, are doing what they can to disrupt their attempts, or so the movie tells us.
The movie is loosely based on the real-life story of Kang Shin-sung, a South Korean career diplomat. The writers Ki-cheol Lee (“Assassination”, “The Thieves”) and Seung-wan Ryoo (“The Battleship Island”, “Veteran”), who also directs, have taken some liberties with the story.
We follow Kang Dae-jin, In-Sung Jo (“The Great Battle”, “The King”), as he arrives in Somalia bearing presents for President Barre, the man they are trying to woo.
His colleagues Secretary Gong, with whom he doesn’t get along, and the South Korean Ambassador Han Shin-sung, Kim Yoon-seok (“Another Child”, “1987”), arrive at the airport very, very late, look at the presents, then tell him to get a taxi.
There’s much tit-for-tat between the North and South, spreading rumours about each other, disrupting each others plans, but when the fighting starts, a civilian uprising to begin with, that takes a back seat.
Communications are cut and people are turning on the embassy’s, accusing them of helping Barre in his dictatorship. Kang manages to convince the local police to send some guards, but they eventually leave. By the end of 1990, the rebels arrive in Mogadishu and things get even uglier.
The North Korean embassy is robbed, by the very people who helped them rob the South Koreans previously. They warn them to get out, or next time there’ll be trouble.
They decide to head to the Chinese embassy but are stopped by an angry bunch of rebels and are forced to retreat, finding themselves outside the South Korean embassy, asking for help.
Ambassador Han brokers a deal with the Italian embassy to get everyone out, even the North Koreans, but they are made to run the gauntlet to get here and come under fire from both rebels and the local forces.
Based on true story movies usually go one of two ways: they’re either very slow, deliberate, or fast-paced thrill rides. Mogadishu is definitely in the latter camp.
Director Seung-wan Ryoo stomps on the gas pedal from the start and only lets up when the South and North are first forced together, their suspicions calling for a more slow and deliberate ride.
Otherwise Mogadishu is funny, poignant, harrowing and thrilling movie all in one. You can see why it is doing so well at the box office, well, probably not in North Korea, if they have a box office.
The sets created, the movie was shot in Morocco, are wonderful, but when filled with the harrowing aftermath of rebels having made their way through the city, take on an ugly tone.
Sure, as mentioned, the writers have taken some liberties with the story. According to Kang Shin-sung himself it was South Korea that first offered North Korea help, it wasn’t that they came looking for it.
I know some of you will struggle with the historical inaccuracies, and I get that, but if you can take it as ‘loosely based on a factual story’, Mogadishu won’t disappoint.
19th October 2020
THE QUICK SELL
In 1991 war-torn Somalia the personnel and the families of both the South Korean and the North Korean embassies have the same goal: to escape from Mogadishu.