Steel Rain Review

Netflix seems to have become every film goer’s Elysium; it has grown into a wholesome VOD platform, with country-specific contents, and has successfully moved even further as a global producer of TV shows and films. Even with some hit-and-miss productions, Netflix provides an easy access to a good selection of films from around the globe. One of such picks is Steel Rain, a gripping South Korean political thriller, written and directed by Yang Woo-suk.

Based on the filmmaker’s own webtoon series of the same title, Yang Woo-suk’s second feature is as tense as his directorial debut The Attorney (2014). Set in modern Korea, the film depicts the most unlikely state of affairs, with an imminent nuclear annihilation threatening the Korean peninsula, and tells the story of Eom Chul-woo (Jung Woo-sung) and Kwak Chul-woo (Kwak Do-won), two men divided by the North-South border until they find themselves united in the face of an oncoming tragedy.


Nothing extraordinary is happening in South Korea, but the opposite goes for North, where an unexpected Coup d’état is planned against the Supreme Leader. Eom Chul-woo, a North Korean agent, is sent to assassinate the leader during one of the government’s meetings in the Kaesong Special Economic Zone. When Eom Chul-woo is ready to shoot, the USA launches its own deadly attack; at that very moment, the loyal agent realizes that for him to survive, he must save the leader, who is seriously injured, and flee North Korea to take a refuge in the South.

Some of those who started the Coup now want to wage a nuclear war, while others want to simply take over the government and pursue their own personal ambitions. Still unaware of the conspiracy, Eom, along with the wounded leader, manages to cross the border to the South and awaits for further orders. In no time, the agent is captured by Kwak Chul-woo, a senior National Security officer. At first, Eom and Kwak unite merely with the common goal of preventing a nuclear war, but they quickly form also a bond of mutual sympathy for one another as they fight to uncover the conspiracy plot, which includes the involvement of USA…

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Steel Rain‘s narrative might be filled with some classic themes – easily seen as too monotonous – such as the subject of the affairs between the South and the North, with the elements of international conspiracy, intertwined with a story of a genuine friendship. That said, Yang Woo-suk manages, in a well-balanced way, to link these elements with the real historical division between the two countries which has lasted for over six decades. Despite the teachings of the regime in the North, its people are shown as somewhat capable of building a positive relationship with the people of South. On top of that, the film director tackles the subject of those who, for years, have been exploiting the Korean peninsula’s division for their own political games; and Yang Woo-suk does not shy away from the fact that one of those ‘silent’ aggressors is the USA.

The film director also explores the desire of the Korean people to decide their own faith and autonomy, free from any constraints. Even so, the hypothetical military coup is still found at the core of the story, as the two protagonists are forced to race against time before ‘the day of reckoning’. Will they manage to prevent the tragedy?

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Steel Rain delivers well; it has the right balance of tension, drama and even humour (including some priceless jokes about K-pop). Yang Woo-suk’s story doesn’t slip into the pit of propaganda; he presents a good narrative with the well-developed characters of Eom and Kwak. And with the excellent performances from Jung Woo-sung and Kwak Do-won, the film is even more effective in bringing the scenario to life, as unrealistic as it may be. It is also impossible to ignore the overlaying idea and the desire for reunification, which are ambitiously set into the script.
Steel Rain is well-crafted also with regards to CGI, spotless editing and cinematography (great camera close-ups). There is no denying that it makes for a helluva roller-coaster ride, and the two+ hours of the film pass by with the speed of light. Netflix made the right choice in buying the international distribution rights as it gave the audience outside of South Korea a chance to enjoy some truly good quality cinema.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Sanja Struna

All photos © Netflix

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