The Point Men (2023) Movie Review – A slow-moving action thriller

A slow-moving action thriller

It’s 2006, a time when the terror of the Taliban was incessant and ally after ally had citizens taken to threaten against supporting the US. South Korea, along with 37 other countries, had deployed troops in support of America after the September 11th attacks. But it’s not the military that’s in the thick of it at this point. It’s 23 Korean vacation-missionaries who head to Afghanistan to spread peace. Before they’ve saved a single soul, they’re snatched and a message of abduction is issued.

In the dusty golden desert, Korean ministers and representatives arrive to negotiate. There’s a push-pull over establishing the most important thing – getting people back safely vs. the country’s reputation in such situations.

The fragmented government comes at it in two different ways. Government ministers sent without much authority and an under-the-radar National Intelligence negotiator who’s been in hostage situations before. But the last one didn’t turn out so well.

Everyone is out of their element, misunderstanding what’s possible and how far they can go. And as the insurgent’s deadlines pass, hostage sacrifices begin.

Hyun Bin of Crash Landing on You (Netflix), Memories of the Alhambra (Netflix) and The Negotiation (Prime), plays the National Intelligence Service officer with a less than perfect record but a knowledge of the Afghan culture.

His less-than-impressed counterpart is Hwang Jung-min as the well-worn diplomat, Jung Jae-ho, managing the government’s side of discussions. A superstar in Korea, he’s recently appeared in Hostage: Missing Celebrity (Prime) and Deliver Us from Evil (Netflix).

While both leads focus on concern for their citizens, there’s a persistent theme of how the South Korean government will appear as the negotiations become more and more sticky. As the stakes get more complicated, we see how this realistic worry plays out. It’s not just about these 23 people.

Probably quite true to life, the team fail at several negotiation attempts which throws them back into turmoil, wondering what they’ve got left to offer. But as the conversations spin round and round instead of adding tension, it begins to feel exhausting. Like, ugh, now what? Though you can’t help but admire the unsupported team as they persist in trying to build a trail.

Kang Ki-young offers a bit of comedic relief as the hide-first translator pulled into the mission. He often plays comedic characters as in the supportive best friend in What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim (Viki) for which he won a supporting actor award.

Directed by Yim Soon-rye, she’s known for the slow-burn dramatic film Little Forest (Disney+) and the fictionalized true story Whistle Blower (Prime, Apple TV), both of which won awards.

Not a million miles from last year’s Korean action drama Escape from Mogadishu, though it has the star-power, it doesn’t seem to have the lovely moments of camaraderie or celebration during the victories, large or small. Adding to that ‘we really can’t win here’ feel, and though the ending is more pleasing than that (thankfully), the back-slaps are dampened by the next thing waiting at every turn.

The cinematography is by turns lovely and interesting, but the incessant politicking and piling failures make it slow going. While the point about how countries make decisions in crisis is worth raising, it’s a slog to get there. That’s probably how a day in international government relations feels as well.

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  • Verdict - 5.5/10

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