‘Escape From Mogadishu’ Offers a Korean Take on the Somali Civil War

Escape from Mogadishu
"Escape from Mogadishu" (Well Go USA)

Americans know about Somali rebel leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid from the Battle of Mogadishu in October 1993 and the movie "Black Hawk Down." Lesser known is the fact that Aidid and his militiamen's 1991 first attack left the city in ruins.

The South Korean movie "Escape from Mogadishu" (now available via digital and on demand) goes back to that bloody battle to follow diplomats as they try to get their families and staff to safety as the city burns.

The film has been a huge success in its home country, becoming the first big hit as theaters reopen after the pandemic. It's the No. 1 box office success of the year and recently won Best Picture at South Korea's Buil Film Awards, an honor previously given to future Oscar winner "Parasite" in 2019.

The movie features the spectacular escape scene promised by the title with the lead actors surrounded by bombs, explosions and gunfire as they work their way through a burning city. Don't expect a pure action film, though. The movie's story owes as much to Iran hostage escape drama "Argo" as it does "Black Hawk Down."

In the late '80s, South Korea wanted full membership in the United Nations, so it sent its diplomats to Africa to lobby nations to support its efforts. The 1988 Olympics in Seoul were a huge success, and the country wanted to leverage that goodwill around the world.

It met some resistance. North Korea, funded by the USSR, had spent nearly two decades offering foreign aid on the African continent. The diplomatic teams from the two countries had a natural and intense rivalry. The corruption in Somali President Mohamed Siad Barré's government made things only more complicated.

Escape from Mogadishu protest
"Escape from Mogadishu" (Well Go USA)

It's 1991. The South Korean Embassy employees don't have cell phones or even a satellite phone. When the communication lines get cut and the telex goes down, they have no way to communicate with Seoul, and they've got to find their own way home.

Things get intense when their North Korean counterparts show up at their embassy door. Will the politically opposed Koreans find a way to overcome their suspicions and work together to get safely out of Somalia?

Of course, you'll need to read subtitles to catch the Korean dialogue, but much of the movie is in English as the diplomats use the language in conversations with Somalis, Italians, Egyptians and other non-Koreans they encounter in the course of the escape.

Worried about rebel gunfire, the diplomats devise an astonishing armoring system for their caravan of cars as they prepare to drive to safety. No spoilers, but the final chase scene offers an amazing payoff if you're impatient for some action to go with your political thriller.

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