2023 New York Asian Film Festival Review

PHANTOM is a superbly made, kinetically charged, kick-butt, pugilistic, take-no-prisoners action thriller circa 1933 when Japan occupied Korea, stirring up anti-Japanese guerilla forces opposing the tyranny of the invaders.

PHANTOM is cinematically lush in quality and imagination. It resonates with sociopolitical chords about democracy and freedom but Director Lee Hae-young’s marvelously made PHANTOM is not a proselytizing film – rather it’s a rousing masterpiece of storytelling with fantastic cinematography and equally superb acting and twisty-turvy, derring-do plots twists and surprises galore.

There are sophisticated comedic touches throughout the film. There are also scenes enigmatic, mysterious and puzzling that have this reviewer pondering what he saw and heard. Note, that PHANTOM is not a martial arts film though the combat athleticism portrayed in the movie is definitely 5-star.

One of several exquisitely photographic scenes; silent and equally enigmatic. What are these two femme falale spies expressing without saying? What is Director Lee Hae-young up to?

Thus this reviewer is compelled to state the following. Filmgoers will have to see PHANTOM more than once just as this reviewer had to – but the payoff is well worth it. They should expect that ritual of our moviegoing experience to be enriching entertainment each time they see it again.

{Psychology Today: Seeing Films More Than Once}

This reviewer-writer-journalist can’t get over the timeliness and synchronicity of PHANTOM. It is being showcased at the 2023 New York Asian Film Fest during world-wide political tumult. For example in America it’s Trumpism & extreme right-wing GOP; in Ukraine (and Russia), it’s Putinism. And so on … and so forth … as well as domestic tumults in China, Africa and the Middle East.

Regarding the collision of PHANTOM’s heroes and heroines portrayed standing their ground and the risks that they are willing to take versus the lethal determination of the Japanese villainous and fascistic anti-heroes: Eloquently portrayed in a pyrotechnic denouement. The build up to that denouement is ripe and rife with action adventure scenes. With risk of possible though minor spoilers, this reviewer believes a modest synopsis is in order.

PHANTOM (Korean: 유령; Hanja: 幽靈; RR: Yuryeong) is a South Korean spy action film based on Mai Jia’s 2007 novel, Feng Sheng. It stars Sol Kyung-gu, Lee Hanee, Park So-dam, Park Hae-soo, and Seo Hyun-woo. Film inspired by the novel “The Wind,” written by Chinese writer Mai Jia.

PHANTOM opens with a botched assassination attempt to kill the new Japanese Resident-General on his first day in Seoul by a spy, a member of a group whose nom de guerre is Phantom.

Gestapo-style and SWAT-like Japanese security forces eventually arrest five people and detain them in a remote hotel on a seaside cliff to find the culprits, revving up the action for waves and waves of intrigue and suspense as those in custody come up with strategies to defend themselves of the assassination charges and the Japanese authorities resort to fear tactics and torture.

Park Cha-kyung played by Lee Hanee is poised to punch out an adversary.

That’s fuel for stunning fight and action adventure scenes that would impress Director Sam Peckinpah if he were alive today. Recall that Peckinpah is known for films with innovative and explicit depiction of action and violence, such as THE WILD BUNCH (1969) where he virtually introduced the bloody aesthetics of slow motion dying and killing scenes.

The five in custody are Junji Murayama (played by Sol Kyung-gu), Park Cha-kyung (played by Lee Hanees), Yuriko (played by Park So-dam), Lee Baek-ho (played by Kim Dong-hee) and Section Chief Cheon Gye-jang (played by Seo Hyeon-woo).

Special Note: Lee Hanee’s Park Cha-kyung is a mistress of the Governor Genera. Hanee achieved international fame for her role in the 2019 critically acclaimed Korean comedy thriller PARASITE, which won the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Picture. Also, Actress Lee Hanee (seen let) is to receive NYAFF 2023 Best from the East Award for a singularly outstanding performance, who is starring in NYAFF’s Opening Film, KILLING ROMANCE.


Gregg W. Morris can be reached at gregghc@comcast.net, profgreggwmorris@gmail.com