Director: Yang Woo-seok
Cast: Jung Woo-sung, Kwak Do-won, Kim Kap-soo, Kim Eui-sung
Watch Steel Rain online in the UK: Netflix UK
On a global scale, the threat of North Korea has been a topic of interest for many years – even more so, since the rise of Kim Jong-un, and his determination to build the country’s military and nuclear programme. The fear of a new war only grew when Donald Trump took office in 2017, and the two leaders thought it right to antagonise each other over their nuclear armaments – and the size of their ‘nuclear buttons’, in particular. The possibility of war seemed to become more real day by day. It wasn’t until the Winter Olympics in South Korea that the idea of reunification came back into the public eye, when the divided nations walked under one banner and negotiations between the two were announced.
Reunification has been desired by many in both South and North, but it wasn’t always something that could be realised through negotiations. South Korean film director Yang Woo-seok decided to present his own idea of how it could come to be, first with a Webtoon, and then through a film called Steel Rain. The action-packed thriller sees former North Korean special forces agent Eom Chul-woo (Jung Woo-sung) caught up in a coup, where a bizarre turn of events forces him to escape to the South with the injured Supreme Leader in tow. The man, determined to bring his head of state back to the North, then turns to the South Korean Secretary for National Security Kwak Chul-woo (Kwak Do-won) for help, and the pair conduct a secret mission to prevent an outbreak of war between the countries.
Yang Woo-seok’s original Webtoon focuses on Kim Jong-il and his potential demise, but for the film, he has reworked his story to fit the current political climate. While North Korea’s Number One – as he’s referred to here – is not shown fully on screen, the implication is there, and Yang builds the tension well with the doomsday scenario he presents. It is Jung Woo-sung and Kwak Do-won that make the film truly stand out, though, thanks their camaraderie and the way their friendship naturally develops as the story progresses. There has been a plethora of North-South ‘frenemy’ films to come out of South Korea over the years, but what works in Steel Rain’s favour is way it approaches its leads, particularly Kwak Chul-woo.
Kwak is – for the most part – a pencil pusher, who must bow to the whims of his superiors and is often scorned by his ex-wife. His loser image makes him likeable, while his sense of humour and rational thinking perfectly complements the stoicism of his North Korean counterpart. Kwak Do-won plays the role perfectly, using his cute charm to lighten the mood when things become tough. In one particularly amusing scene, Kwak shows Eom a song by K-Pop giant G-Dragon as they drive to a meeting with North Korean leaders, and then breaks into a dance as the passenger looks on confused.
It’s moments like this that really showcases the chemistry between Kwak Do-won and Jung Woo-sung, as their characters forge a meaningful bond. On the other side, Jung Woo-sung’s honest take on Eom provides an interesting depiction of a North Korean person. Other films have often focused on a character’s blind loyalty or how brutish they can be, but Eom is different. He puts his family first, and is quick to do what he can for them even at the risk of his own health and general safety. His character is full of heart, and his humanised portrayal only helps Steel Rain stand out within the genre.
Steel Rain is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.