A new South Korean film set during the Somali civil war in 1991 is the highest-grossing film in the Asian country so far this year.
With $26.9 million in ticket sales, Escape from Mogadishu has raked in more than the American productions Black Widow and Fast & Furious 9, according to the Korean film council, despite being released after them and being shown on less screens. It is also the first film to surpass 3 million ticket sales in the country this year.
Directed by South Korean Ryoo Seung-wan, Escape from Mogadishu is based on real events of 1991 when North Korean and South Korean embassy workers and their families, trapped and stranded in the civil war, unexpectedly unite despite their countries’ differences to make a dangerous attempt to escape the city.
“This is a story about humanity – living against adversity,” Peter Kawa, one of six Kenyan actors in the film, tells Quartz.
Escape from Mogadishu was entirely shot in Morocco in 2019 and it was released in South Korea on July 28 of this year. It stars the South Koreans Kim Yoon-seok, Jo In-sung, Heo Joon-ho and Kim So-jin.
Escape from Mogadishu is one of many films related to the Somali civil war, including the 2001 Hollywood production Black Hawk Dawn by director Ridley Scott.
The Somali civil war started in 1988, with the country’s military forces fighting against different rebel groups who were opposing President Mohamed Siad Barre’s dictatorship. Barre was eventually overthrown by opposition groups in 1991.
South Korea had sent diplomats to Somalia in 1987, the same year the two established diplomatic ties, to earn the support of African members of the United Nations as part of its efforts to be admitted to the global body. North Korea and Somalia had established diplomatic relations earlier, in 1967.
North Korea and South Korea have had a tense relationship for decades as both claim to be the legitimate government of the entire Korean Peninsula, which the US and the Soviet Union divided in 1945. But in Escape from Mogadishu, this rivalry takes a back seat as their citizens work towards a common goal.
“However much people do not agree according to country,” Kawa says, “when it comes now not to saving lives, they get to work together and they remind themselves that they’re all they have—each other.”
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