Back To Top

[Herald Review] Imagining coup d’etat in North Korea

Upcoming political thriller paints both realistic, idealistic picture of inter-Korean relations

Speculations abound on what action the volatile North Korean regime is to take next following its recent series of missile and nuclear tests. Upcoming political thriller “Steel Rain” takes it one step further, imagining a scenario where the threat of nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula becomes imminent. Viewers witness what unfolds after North Korea’s ruler -- unnamed in the film -- is overthrown in a coup d’etat and an even more belligerent commander takes his place.

“I asked myself to brutally imagine a situation of conflict between the South and the North, and that is how the film began,” said director Yang Woo-seok after a press screening at CGV Yongsan in Seoul on Monday. Yang, who continues to vocalize political messages in his films, returns with a follow-up effort after his 2013 courtroom drama “The Attorney,” which drew on the life of former President Roh Moo-hyun.

“Steel Rain” is at once the nickname for the US’ Multiple Launch Rocket System and a description of the projectile weapons pouring down from the sky, Yang explained.

“The reason I made this the title of the film is because I wanted to say that if we do not prepare during current circumstances between the South and the North, it could turn into a terrifying situation at any time.”

Jung Woo-sung stars in “Steel Rain.” (NEW)
Jung Woo-sung stars in “Steel Rain.” (NEW)

When missiles begin showering over an event at the Kaesong industrial park, injuring the North’s leader, the head of North Korea’s reconnaissance team (Kim Kap-soo) orders special agent Uhm Chul-woo (Jung Woo-sung) to take him and flee to the South via an underground tunnel to take refuge until the revolt concludes.

Upon arriving near Seoul, Uhm struggles to find a doctor to operate on the North Korean leader, in the course running into Kwak Chul-woo (Kwak Do-won), Korea’s senior secretary of foreign affairs and national security.

Meanwhile, the North is in tumult with a hot-headed new commander, and declares an end to the armistice agreement with the South. South Korea is in the midst of unrest of its own, preparing to inaugurate a newly elected liberal president. As with many Korean political thrillers in recent years, parts of the film will seem glaringly familiar to viewers, appearing to be cut directly from the headlines. 

Kwak Do-won stars in “Steel Rain.” (NEW)
Kwak Do-won stars in “Steel Rain.” (NEW)

The film is never shy in expressing its skepticism of the Korea-US alliance. In talks, it is revealed the US is more concerned over the projected costs of a potential war on the Korean Peninsula than any real efforts to minimize damage. It orders a pre-emptive strike on the North, assuring South Koreans that no harm will befall them, even as it evacuates its own citizens from the country.

Interparty conflicts are also clear: South Korea’s incumbent conservative regime is intent on proclaiming war, while the new president-elect struggles to stave off conflict.

In spite of turbulent international and domestic situations, Uhm and Kwak, who share the same given name, develop a brotherly bond and come to communicate frankly on each side’s intentions. Uhm reveals himself to be more than the stoic, unthinking killer that a North Korean agent is often portrayed as. The film even turns to comedy while painting the relationship between the two. When Uhm reveals his daughter secretly listens to K-pop artist G-Dragon in the North, Kwak puts on a song and the two enjoy a brief jam session in the car.

Despite efforts at a realistic depiction of South-North relations, the highly improbable denouement will leave many viewers baffled.

Jung Woo-sung (left) and Kwak Do-won star in “Steel Rain.” (NEW)
Jung Woo-sung (left) and Kwak Do-won star in “Steel Rain.” (NEW)

“Steel Rain,” produced by Mofac & Alfred and distributed by Next World Entertainment, will hit local theaters Thursday. The film will also be available for streaming on Netflix. 

By Rumy Doo ( 

Korea Herald Youtube