This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Yang Woo-seok
Tensions between North and South Korea have been ridiculously high for a very long time. The two countries have been at a standstill for so long that flinching could cause World War Three. Throwing Kim Jong-un’s absurdly terrifying reign into the pot has provided countless memes across the internet. Not that I’m complaining, I’ve had many a laugh at those memes. However, what I am complaining about is the representation of this conflict in STEEL RAIN. Barely touching upon any Korean history and just a wee little bit on the current situation, the parts of this film that did make some comments were almost lost on me because—lord have mercy—I was plum confused.
This Korean action flick tells the story of how a North Korean agent and a South Korean government official must work together to stop nuclear war between the warring countries. All the while, “Number One” is severely wounded and on the brink of death. One can only assume that “Number One” is Kim Jong-un, a very massive duh. STEEL RAIN was directed by Yang Woo-seok, based off of his webtoon comic of the same name. Yang only has one other film, THE ATTORNEY, under his directing belt. I’m surprised, as THE ATTORNEY has an immense amount of critical acclaim behind it. Knowing this generates such disappointment inside me, as Yang seems to have fallen awfully far.
A metaphor for the division? Maybe? I don’t know girl, this movie has me exhausted
I have to be honest, I didn’t have a goddamn clue what was going on for the first half of STEEL RAIN. I was so painfully confused that it actually created a sense of anxiety in me. The film opens with the North Korean agent given an ultimatum, the South Korean agent unable to connect with his children (a family who the audience never sees for the rest of the film), and the agent carrying out the mission he was given, I think? These scenes didn’t help me understand who these men were or why they were important. I wasn’t 100% clear on them or their story until halfway through the second act, which makes for a pretty sad screenplay if you ask me. I can’t appreciate or even properly learn about Korea’s history or its possible outcome if I keep repeatedly throwing my arms up in air. Yes, it all came together eventually, but I had turned to stone by that point.
The plotline wasn’t the only thing that had my head spinning. The action sequences were disorienting and I couldn’t see what was happening. The only detail I could glean from these fights is when someone fell and stayed down. I kept waiting for that to happen so I could actually see something interesting. I wasn’t enjoying the fights at all. I was so excited to see someone get their ass kicked, but I was decidedly let down. I’m desperately racking my brain, trying to find some shining moment of film form in this feature. Nothing. Nada. Zippo. There was nothing new done with cinematography and nothing new done with the acting. They weren’t terrible actors, but there wasn’t anything really inspiring either. It is frustratingly mediocre. The only thing that wasn’t completely average was the editing; that was just abominable. Keep it away from me.
His face gives me terror but the scene gives me perplexity
The great divide between North and South Korea is a massive problem, there’s no denying that, and it’s well known that the conditions in North Korea are even worse. While STEEL RAIN has moments where it demonstrates this, it’s just simply not enough. Just because something is widely known by the public doesn’t mean it’s relatable. If you want people to understand, you have to expand. You also can’t confuse the viewer for an entire half of the movie. If we can’t follow a plotline, how do you expect us to take something emotional, political, or anything AT ALL, really, from the film? STEEL RAIN missed the mark on the largest target in the eastern hemisphere.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend