“We South Koreans and North Koreans were all there, waving the flag of South Korea.”
- a interview of Kang Shin-sung, former ambassador of Somalia
Escape from Mogadishu, which was released on July 21, hit the first 3-million-viewer mark this year in Korea even though Level 4 social distancing has been practiced. The movie recorded the third highest-selling movie in Korea since the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching the break-even point at the time when the number of cinema audiences dropped to one-fifth. Escape from Mogadishu could be a hit due to its vividness and messages.
The movie Escape from Mogadishu begins in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, in 1991 when South Korea made inroads in a diplomatic war by joining the UN. South Korean embassy officials, including Han Shin-sung (Kim Yoon-seok), constantly conduct psychological warfare to get the support of Somalia and participate in the UN against North Korean embassy workers, including Lim Yong-su (Huh Joon-ho). Along the way, protests spread to the civil war in Mogadishu, and the goal changes to both North and South Koreans escaping from Somalia instead of focusing only on applying to join the UN forces. In this urgent situation, the two Koreas overcome their ideology and cooperate to escape Mogadishu.
This movie is attracting more attention because it is based on a true story. The foundation of the movie is what former ambassador Kang Shin-sung experienced at the time. In a recent interview with Korea JoongAng Daily, he said, “It was a moment of life or death for all of them, and in such a moment, people forgot about the ideological differences.” His dramatic experience showed brotherhood in other countries as the civil war broke out, and it eventually became Escape from Mogadishu, which describes reconciliation between the two Koreas.
Ryu Seung-wan, the director of Escape from Mogadishu, also made an effort to realistically describe the atmosphere of foreign embassies in Somalia. He said, “I interviewed many diplomats who were dispatched to troubled regions such as Africa and the Middle East area in the 80s and 90s, including Kang Shin-sung, who was dispatched to Mogadishu.” Therefore, the audiences can see how the narrative about the embassy of Somalia mixes with narratives of other countries in some scenes in the movie.
#Point 1: Scenes that show the horrors of war
Escape from Mogadishu shows the horror of war in a realistic way. In particular, the audience can feel fear through the sounds. In the movie, when government forces and rebels attacked the two Koreas, it made audiences feel well the urgent situation, creating realistic scenes with the sounds of bullets and petrol bombs exploding. The director Ryu said, “It was necessary to make vivid sounds for the audiences to feel immersed as if they were in a car. Hence, the team takes charge of sounds took many troubles to make them vividly in the recording studio. He added this is why people have to watch the movie with the full sound of theater.
People can feel the horror of war in the presence of child soldiers holding guns as well as in the sounds. The dependents of North Korean diplomats driven out of their legation encounter children of Somalia getting guns on the street of Mogadishu. Then, the children who mock them while laughing pretend to point guns loaded with ammunitions at them. Through the scene of firing into the air as if it were fun to see the frightened North Korean, the movie maximizes the horror more by showing the sight of children who have to frolic in a playground ruined by the war.
#Point 2: Warmth found despite war situations
In the desperate situation, the movie shows humanism through the affection between the two Koreas that stick out. At that time, the two Koreans engaged in a continual struggle over ideology. However, in the movie, Han and Lim decide to cooperate in a humanitarian viewpoint for survival, regardless of the ideology of each country. At first, they also had impure intentions, but eventually rely on one another without any intentions as time goes by. Through this aspect, the audiences can feel humanism, looking at their fellowship.
In particular, it is very refreshing to visually show humanism with a “Korean pickled perilla leaf”. (깻잎장아찌). In the situation that the two Koreas decide to cooperate shortly after, the North Korean ambassadress Bae Young-sook (Park Myung-sin) separates a Korean pickled perilla leaf from others that Kim Myung-hee (Kim So-jin) finds difficult to pick up. This scene with the leaves that are easy to separate from others if the other person holds them with chopsticks shows the Korean sentiment of affection well. Also, it makes the audience expect the possibility of cooperation between North and South Korea.
One of the key points this movie deals with is the moral will to make choices. The movie deals with the question, “Can I help someone in need when he or she asks me for help?”. At first, Han Shin-sung tries not to let North Koreans in the embassy and avoids taking risks even though he is aware of their difficult situation. However, he finally opens the door for them due to humane compassion for the hungry North Korean children. Through this scene, the movie shows the inner morality of humans.
A wistful sense of insufficiency about narratives of the characters
Some of the audience who watched Escape from Mogadishu felt a sense of frustration in that the narratives of each character were insufficient. Jung Si-woo, a movie journalist, said, “The individualities of characters and psychological states between them had to intertwine densely to touch a string in the heart of the audience, but it was regrettable that the movie is not.” Also, movie critic Lee Dong-jin gave a review regretting the movie was immersed only in the narrative about the escape of characters and did not reveal the detailed circumstances of Somalia such as why the civil war broke out.
Rather, if individual narratives and stories about the civil war were deeply dealt with, the main story would lose focus. The director Ryu said, “While producing Escape from Mogadishu, I had to select and focus on the true story that consists of big and small events. The problem was to remove repeated events so that the story can flow well during the two-hour running time.” Thus, the goal and end of the movie are clear because the choice and concentration about the narrative of escape were drastic.
Escape from Mogadishu is the movie that effectively embodies value that humans have to pursue through solidarity transcending ideological confrontation of the two Koreas. Also, it struck a chord in the hearts of the audiences in that it is based on a true story. Thus, the movie makes people think more. It is like whether a leader has to make a moral choice in a crisis situation and what ideology is. While audiences watch Escape from Mogadishu, it will be a good experience to think of these questions, rather than just being immersed in the story.