Shiri (1999)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Suk-kyu Han, Min-sik Choi, Kang-ho Song
Extras: “Making Of” Documentary, Music Video, Bonus Trailers

Korean director Je-gyu Kang’s 1999 espionage thriller ’Shiri’ has quickly turned into one of Korea’s most successful and popular films. It is the story of an assassin who is methodically taking out key people of the South Korean intelligence. Special agents Ryu and Lee are on the case and begin tracking down their most likely suspect, Hee, one of North Korea’s most successful special agents. When Ryu and Lee discover a shipment of the explosive CTX to North Korea, suddenly Hee surfaces.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment is releasing ’Shiri’ in its 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio on this DVD that is enhanced for 16×9 television sets. The transfer is generally clean and only occasionally speckles are evident. There is a bit of grain in selected shots, but nothing too serious or distracting. The image shows very good detail and definition. Colors are beautifully rendered, giving the picture a natural appearance, yet at the same time manages to create bold images of the urban neon world at night with strong and vibrant colors. Black levels are perfect, creating strikingly bold blacks and shadows that never lose detail, giving the image astonishing richness. Edge-enhancement is not evident in the transfer and the compression is also free of compression artifacts of any sort.

The DVD features three language tracks. First up is a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital mix of the original Korean audio track. It is natural sounding with good frequency response and good dynamics. A 5.1 channel English dub is also supplied on the disc, but, while having a richer more natural quality in technical terms, the dub is just annoyingly bad and distracting so my advice is to stay away from it. A French Dolby Surround track is also part of the release, which is actually quite good. A selection of subtitles rounds out that language support of this disc.

The DVD also contains a documentary called ’The Making Of Shiri,’ which not only offers a glimpse at the films production itself, but also talks about the success story that became ’Shiri.’ Since filmmaking in Asian countries is very different from Hollywood, this 55-minute documentary is a great, insightful and entertaining addition to the release that covers quite a bit of ground.

The music video ’When I dream’ is also part of the DVD, a romantic ballad that is supported by an equally romantic collage of footage from the movie. The DVD is rounded out by a few trailers for other Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment DVD releases.

’Shiri’ is a great espionage thriller with many plot twists and a theme that is as daring as it appears, especially given Korea’s real-life political situation. The film is beautifully photographed and produced and certainly one of the best film I have seen come out Korea in recent years. Thriller and foreign film fans alike should dig this one!