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[Herald Review] Underwater summit holds key to future of two Koreas in ‘Steel Rain 2’

“Steel Rain 2: Summit” (Lotte Entertainment)
“Steel Rain 2: Summit” (Lotte Entertainment)

How would the leaders of South Korea, North Korea and the United States prevent a war from happening on the Korean Peninsula on a stealth submarine some 300 meters under the water?

“Steel Rain 2: Summit” takes this highly unlikely premise and looks at the ongoing inter-Korean conflict. The film kicks off by showing heightening military tensions between the US and China and the impending complications for the surrounding nations -- the two Koreas and Japan.

While tension hangs over the Korean Peninsula, US President Smoot, played by Scottish actor Angus Macfadyen, and North Korean leader Cho Seon-sa, played by Yoo Yeon-suk, hold a summit in the port city of Wonsan in North Korea. South Korean President Han Kyung-jae, portrayed by Jung Woo-sung, accompanies them as a mediator.

As the summit proceeds, North Korean hard-liners opposed to a peace treaty attempt a military coup and kidnap the three leaders, holding them on a submarine. With the leaders locked up, the submarine becomes divided, as the security chief -- played by Kwak Do-won -- tries to seize power by assassinating the North Korean leader, while the submarine’s commander -- Jang Ki-suk, played by Shin Jung-geun -- struggles to control the situation and save the leaders.

“Steel Rain 2: Summit” (Lotte Entertainment)
“Steel Rain 2: Summit” (Lotte Entertainment)

Although the upcoming movie is a sequel to the 2017 film, the plot is completely different. If the first film was a fantasy envisioning the hermit kingdom’s collapse through a coup and the outbreak of military conflict between the two Koreas, the follow-up shows a more realistic approach to the situation on the Korean Peninsula -- which, fundamentally speaking, involves more than just the two countries.

“While ‘Steel Rain’ shows the outbreak of war between the North and South, ‘Steel Rain 2’ portrays the harsh reality that, although the race toward a peace regime on the peninsula will not be easy, we must soldier on with it,” director Yang Woo-suk said Thursday during a premiere event.

The director, also the author of the film’s original online comics, said he doesn’t intend to force any message on the audience, but only offer simulations to the wider public who, most of the time, live oblivious to the divided state of the peninsula.

“Simulations can help people imagine about a likely situation, and as a film director, I feel like it is my responsibility to provide simulations of viable paths for South Korea,” Yang said.

While the first half of the film is used to educate the audience on the background underlying the international politics and the history behind the conflicts, the film sees its climax in battle scenes that take place inside and outside the submarine. Whereas the toss-and-turn of the power struggle inside the cramped vessel metaphorically illustrates the ongoing inter-Korean conflict, the chase between submarines and missile attacks taking place deep underwater showcases the fast-paced action. 

“Steel Rain 2: Summit” (Lotte Entertainment)
“Steel Rain 2: Summit” (Lotte Entertainment)

However, weak character development turns this action-packed blockbuster into a fantasy-like drama. With the US and South Korean presidents on two extreme ends -- Smoot as a rash and ignorant figure and Han as a simple yet powerless mediator -- the characters seem far too two-dimensional to be relatable.

As the director had intended, the upcoming film shows one scenario for the Korean Peninsula’s future, but how compelling it will be to the audience -- especially Koreans -- is yet to be judged.

The film is set to open Wednesday.

By Choi Ji-won (
Korea Herald daum