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Escape From Mogadishu, South Korea’s submission for best international feature at the 2022 Academy Awards, is a tense action-thriller that takes place during the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in the late 1980s, and the story of the foreign diplomats — specifically, the rival North and South Korean embassy workers — caught in the crossfire and trying to flee the capital. Taught from birth to regard the other with hostility and suspicion, the two Korean factions must agree to forge an uneasy alliance to survive.
“If you watch the movie, you’ll realize that these two groups are actually the only two that can communicate with each other without an interpreter,” says director Ryoo Seung-wan in a conversation with THR Presents, powered by Vision Media. “If it wasn’t for the political or ideological divide in a system, these two groups of people could be the happiest [together].”
Like Ryoo, producer Kang Hye-jeong was drawn to both the project’s resonance with Korea’s civil war history as well as its relevance to universal humanitarian themes. “This story asks the fundamental question of what is a human being, and also what is life?” she says. “And also, it’s set in the most Korean of situations.”
The production, which took place in Morocco before the pandemic in late 2019, required the coordination of a multinational cast and crew, with as many as five languages – Korean, English, French, Arabic and Spanish — being spoken on set at once. “Our determination to make something real crossed over all the language barriers,” Ryoo says.
The thrilling climax of the film, which Ryoo notes is based on an actual event, finds a four-car, mixed-Korean convoy tearing through the streets of Mogadishu, evading both armed soldiers and rebels in a race to make it to the Italian embassy, where a Red Cross plane is about to take off.
“This was a film that had to take a different approach from the action sequences you see in blockbusters,” Ryoo says of the sequence, which took about three weeks to shoot. “It wasn’t important for us to give people a sense of speed or to show the magnitude of the situation. I felt it was much more important to show the fear that was being generated inside the cars than what was happening outside.”
After filming all the stunt shots, the Escape team filmed the cast in-studio by removing the roofs of each vehicle, then restored the roofs and built exterior action shots based on the actors’ performances. “Because these cars were all so old, by the time we were about the middle of shooting, they couldn’t go over 30 or 40 kilometers per hour,” Ryoo laughs. “When the actors couldn’t hear me over the radio, it was faster for me to run over and tell them.”
Ryoo says his goal with the sequence was to include at least one scene that has never before been seen in another film — an objective he had to reconcile with the movie’s 24 million won (approximately $20 million) budget. “If you compare it to the average Hollywood movie, this is an indie film.”
Ultimately, say Ryoo and Kang, Escape From Mogadishu is a reminder to Koreans about their own history as well as to countries around the world about the human and social toll of war.
“This is the image of Korea today, but it could also be seen as the future of Somalia in the movie, and the future of Afghanistan [after the Taliban regained control] a few months ago,” the director says. “So this is a sentimentality that only Koreans can express, but also at the same time, this is the story of anyone and everyone who has been through a war and been victimized by war.”
This edition of THR Presents is sponsored by Well Go USA Entertainment.
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