[HanCinema's Film Review] "Ransomed"

The success of "Escape from Mogadishu" seems to have sent some ripples in the Korean mainstream movie industry, and "Kingdom", "A Hard Day" and "Tunnel" director Kim Seong-hun seemed like an ideal candidate to shoot a similar film, "Ransomed" which also channels intense elements of another rather popular local movie, "A Taxi Driver". Considering that the film opened in second place with $3.34 million over the weekend and $5.19 million over its full five-day opening run, the "experiment" is already a success.


In Beirut 1986, during the Lebanese civil war, a Korean diplomat is taken hostage without a trace. 2 years later, young and disappointed with the fact that he has not been promoted for years, diplomat Min-joon, receives a call proving that the hostage is still alive. Using the fact as leverage to ask for a placement in the US, he is tasked with paying the ransom in Beirut, and bringing the kidnapped back to his family. However, as soon as he sets foot in Lebanon, trouble begins for him even from the airport, although he manages to escape with the help of local taxi driver Pan-soo. The cabbie, however, is soon proved a swindler and Min-joon finds himself trying to survive on his own. Thankfully, Pan-soo eventually decides to help him and the two navigate the demolished, war-raging Beirut, in an effort to save themselves and the hostage.

Morocco this time is "transformed" to Beirut (as it became Somalia in "Escape from Mogadishu") in order to host a buddy action comedy that also includes the additional fan-favorite element of "based on a true story" in an evident effort to draw audience by implementing a Hollywood-like approach that obviously succeeded in the local box office. Apart from these, though, there are a number of other elements here that add to the movie's appeal. For starters, Min-joon is not an ultra fighter able to beat, shoot and kill scores of enemies to reach his goal, but essentially an everyday man who is driven initially by his ambition, and later on, by his sense of duty and will to save a fellow Korean, in another fan-favorite element here.

The second point of appeal is his antithesis with Pan-soo, who is a swindler and one of those people who seem that even if thrown from an airplane in the jungle he will still find a way to survive and even thrive. The way their two personalities clash, inevitably, and even more so, the way this clash and the danger the two share changes them in a way that makes them much more similar and eventually friends, is definitely one of the most entertaining aspects to watch here. The fact that Kim Seong-hun implements this aspect both for comedy and for drama is a testament to the quality of his direction, along with the way the story unfolds.

This aspect also benefits the most from the acting, with Ha Jung-woo as Min-joon and Ju Ji-hoon as Pan-soo playing off each other in the most amusing fashion, while presenting their eventual change with gusto and artistry.

Apart from the aforementioned, "Ransomed" is first and foremost an action comedy and it is here that most of its appeal and combination come from. Implementing the usual episodic approach, Kim includes a number of shoot-outs, car and foot chases, falling water drains, wild dogs, and a lot of explosions, as the protagonist duo find themselves hunted by two opposing gangs and the local government. The combination of action and comedy dictates the approach in the majority of scenes, in the most impressive way, with Kim Tae-sung-I's cinematography and Kim Chang-joo's editing finding their zenith in those sequences. The presentation of the area is also exceptional, with the chasing in the narrow streets and the decrepit building being particularly appealing to watch. The overall pace is expectedly fast, and becomes even faster as time passes, thus managing to easily fit all the episodes in the 132 of its duration, which do pass in a breeze.

"Ransomed" is easy to watch, well shot, and well acted, and a genuine feel-good movie that is bound to satisfy anyone who wants to have a good time.

Review by Panos Kotzathanasis


"Ransomed" is directed by Kim Seong-hun, and features Ha Jung-woo, Ju Ji-hoon, Im Hyeong-gook, Kim Eung-soo, Kim Jong-soo, Park Hyuk-kwon. Release date in Korea: 2023/08/02.