Escape from Mogadishu

In Mogadishu, it’s not a good idea to bring the blue book when you take your car for a trade-in.

(2021) Action (Well Go USA) Kim Yoon-seok, In-sung Jo, Joon-ho Huh, Kyo-hwan Koo, So-jin Kim, Man-sik Jeong, Kim Jae-hwa, Park Ji-eun. Directed by Seung-wan Ryoo


In 1991, the Somalian dictator Siad Barre was overthrown by rebel forces and from there Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia, and the rest of Somalia for that matter descended into chaos.

South Korea had a tiny embassy there in 1991. Ambassador Han (Y-s Kim) was eager to lobby the Somali government to cast a vote to allow South Korea into the United Nations. Because there were so many African nations that had voting privileges in the U.N., South Korea was focusing much of their diplomatic focus on Africa in an effort to garner enough votes to gain South Korea admittance. North Korean ambassador Rim (Huh) was doing his best to thwart the ambassador’s efforts.

Along with the South Korean ambassador was his wife (S-j Kim) and security advisor Kang (Jo). Also working for the small North Korean embassy is their security advisor (Koo). At first, the two countries are too wrapped up in their own diplomatic games to really notice what’s going on. There are rumors of unrest, but a report by the American CIA, as well as the analysis of an Australian journalist, doesn’t believe the country is ready to sink into Civil War. How wrong they were.

The violence comes with startling suddenness and unnerving ferocity. Government officials quickly flee Mogadishu with all the wealth they can lay their grubby hands on, both Korean embassies find themselves rapidly in an untenable situation. Communications fail as the country’s infrastructure collapses. They have no aircraft available to them – the ambassadors and their staffs flew commercial to get to Mogadishu – and no way of contacting their government to get help. The streets are run by violent mobs who are of the opinion that all foreigners should die. With no troops to protect their embassies, the South Koreans make an arrangement with members of the Mogadishu police to guard their embassy, but that is only a temporary fix. Soon it becomes too dangerous for the cops to hang around and they leave the Koreans on their own.

The North Korean embassy staff is in a similar situation. With food running out and their embassies under siege, there is no option but to find a way out of Somalia. However, that will take both ambassadors using their contacts – Ambassador Han contacting Western allies, Ambassador Rim contacting North Korea’s allies – to find a way out. And once they even have a hope of getting out, they must make a perilous trip through the chaotic, violent streets of Mogadishu to get to that opportunity. The odds are not with them, especially since it seems nearly impossible that the two staffs – used to mutual hatred and mistrust – can work together in any way shape or form.

The film is based on actual events. How close the depiction here is to what actually happened is not something this American critic has any clue about; there is little information about the incident online. From what I’ve been able to glean, the essential facts were correct.

The movie is essentially an action film, and to be honest the action sequences are masterfully done, particularly the climactic sequence in which the staffs of both embassies make a desperate, dangerous drive through the streets of the city to make it to freedom. It’s a harrowing, tense sequence and stands out as one of the best action sequences you’re likely to see this year – including those in movies with much bigger budgets.

The movie is a bit long for what it is, and some of the humor didn’t fit in with the overall tone of the film. However, the movie does take a different look at the ongoing tragedy in Somalia with a different set of eyes. I wonder if we’ll ever see events that have transpired in that unfortunate country over the past thirty years through Somali eyes at some point.

REASONS TO SEE: The action sequences are well-staged.
REASONS TO AVOID: Feels a bit long.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Somali Civil War, which began in 1991, has been ongoing since then. More than 500,000 Somali citizens have been killed in the fighting since then.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/21/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: 89/100.
Man Under Table


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