“Yaksha: Ruthless Operations” is a fast-paced action thriller that delves deeper into the politics of greed that has infiltrated nations’ governments. It is not so much for the characters as it is for the plot of the film. This film is watch-worthy just for the way it has been executed. The viewer gets a balanced amount of action. The story might seem difficult to grasp at first, and one may have to watch multiple scenes again and again to understand the underlying motive. Overall, “Yaksha: Ruthless Operations” is a one-time watch if you are into action thrillers beyond the language barrier.
The World Of ‘Yaksha: Ruthless Operations’
Shenyang, China, has been the center of East Asia’s power struggle over North Korea. Intelligence agents from neighboring countries have been waging a cold war within city limits. This is why any intel related to activities in Shenyang is highly classified. Black teams have been engaged in secret assignments, so it is important to overlook the city via internal reviews. Apparently, reports from recent months have turned out to be false and fabricated.
Prosecutor Han Ji Hoon is sent by NIS director Yeom to report back on the criminal proceedings from the Shenyang branch that are led by Ji Kang-in, aka Yaksha (Sol Kyung Gu). The members of the team include Deputy Hong (Yang Dong-Geun), Jeong Dae (Park Jin Young), Hui-won (Lee El), and Jae-Gyu (Song Jae Rim). Yaksha and his team have been planning to secure Moon Byung-uk, head of Room 38, a group that is part of North Korea’s Central Committee.
Moon is responsible for handling the royal Kim family’s slush funds, which amount to approximately 4 trillion. But their mission isn’t easy as both North Korea and Japan are also looking for Moon, who is, more importantly, a Japanese spy. Why? Well, read on. Hoon is not at all happy with the way Yaksha and his team function, ruthless and without remorse, behaving as if they are above the law. But in order to understand their functioning, he decides to cooperate and learn.
The real reason why Hoon has been sent is so that he can be used as an extra set of eyes and ears and keep Director Yeom updated about Yaksha’s movements. She has been working as a spy for Japan (Ozawa), and she knows about Yaksha’s motives to secure Moon, thanks to Hong, whom she has turned into a mole, and thus wants to ensure that Yaksha isn’t successful in it. However, when she finds out that Hoon is working with Yaksha, she decides to pull him back.
Four years ago, North and South Korea planned a covert meeting in Hong Kong, something that Japan didn’t want as a united Korea would pose a threat. The meeting never happened as the whole place where it was planned was burned down. This was also carried out by Yeom, who came to know about it from one of her moles. This means that her ties with Japan were formed even before that. Why? We are not told. It was probably because Japan promised her a cut of 4 trillion yen. And Japan’s efforts to block cooperation between North and South Korea still continue.
Yeom continues working secretly with D7, aka Ozawa, to reacquire a spy list that Moon had in his possession. Each of them (including North Korea and the then-unidentified D7’s Japanese agents) is involved in it, and there has recently been a firefight among them over securing Moon; each of them with the same motive of recovering whatever data Moon is in possession of. But the catch is that if all this involvement gets leaked to the governments and the world at large, a major diplomatic crisis will be unavoidable.
The list carries not just the names of Japanese spies placed in countries across East Asia as maintained by Ozawa, but also intelligence on the missions, objectives, reports, and their funding. Moon wanted to make the list public after he was deceived by his country (Japan) into believing that he was ensuring peace between North and South Korea. In contrast, he was only helping Japan maintain the animosity between North and South Korea. He cut a deal and requested asylum in exchange for the list. He knew that the Japanese would hunt him down, and this is why he wanted Yaksha’s team to provide him with security. It is important for the list to be recovered as it will help uncover Japan’s dark secrets. This will also help further diplomatic relations between North and South Korea.
The antagonist, Japanese spy D7, aka Ozawa Yoshinobu (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), doesn’t want this and thus leaves no stone unturned to reacquire the list and delete its content once and for all. However, at the end of the film, Yaksha and his team, along with Hoon, are able to bring down Ozawa, and all the data is sent to the intelligence agencies of East Asian nations. In this way, they can avoid any kind of intelligence compromise for East Asia, which could lead to more diplomatic crises in the future, particularly between South Korea, North Korea, Japan, and China.
Han Ji Hoon – A Just Inspector In An Unjust World
Prosecutor Han Ji Hoon has always been on the right side of the law and justice system. His motto is “just actions preserve justice.” However, after failing to get a corrupt industrial mogul behind bars, he was removed from his post and transferred to the legal support office at the National Intelligence Service, South Korea. But this doesn’t sway him from his ideals of serving justice. This is evident when he jumps in at the first chance he gets to be reinstated and nominates himself to go to Shenyang, China, to look into the matter at hand. There are multiple instances where he proves his worth as a quick-witted officer. Be it while talking to D7 in Japanese or while escaping from the local police after waking up in a motel room with drugs or shooting Yaksha to make it look as if he had killed him.
There is a conflict in Hoon that isn’t always visible, but palpable all the same. On the one hand, he has to maintain his ideals in order to keep himself on the right side of the law, something that makes him. On the other hand, he realizes that he has to help Yaksha and his team recover Moon, and, later on, his daughter. However, he is willing to do so because the end result is noble.
At the end of the film, Hoon isn’t a changed man who has taken to killing to prevent any damage to the laws of justice. But he is willing to break the law in order to protect it if the situation calls for it. It doesn’t change his ideals but rather alters them for a world that can only be set right by a twisted sense of justice. Fortunately, Hoon also gets his revenge on the very industrial mogul who got out of his hands the first time (at the beginning of the film), Chairman Lee of the Sang-in Group, who was charged with bribery and stock manipulation. He was again accused of bribery from Japan and would be under the jurisdiction of Hoon yet again. In this way, Hoon comes full circle but is now a changed man, and one for the better. And the credit for all this goes to Yaksha.
Yaksha, A.K.A Ji Kang-in – The Benevolent Guardian Angel or the Malicious Demon?
Yaksha is both an angel and a demon, and his ways might seem wrong, but they are for the right reasons. We can’t really question his decisions because he’s seen more of the world than we have. He knows how the world and all its so-called governments function, an example of which we get to see in the film itself. Furthermore, the fact that he lost his entire team due to the hypocrisy of his director, Yeon, adds more ice to his cold self. However, he is not unwilling to test a person, as is evident when he meets Hoon. He realizes Hoon’s ability to judge right from wrong and opens up to him, albeit slowly. And sure enough, Hoon proves him right.
Yaksha is a person who, due to the nature of his work, has to make deals with his enemies time and again. As he tells Hoon, it’s all about the give-and-take of intel and that it needs to flow. This is perhaps how he knows D7, aka Ozawa. But it doesn’t make him vulnerable to them. And yet, his trust is compromised time and again (thrice in the film, to be precise-the first one was four years ago, the second one was Professor Wang, and the third one was Hong). Maybe these compromises are also what has added to his nature. Be that as it may, Hoon has proved that he is worthy of Yaksha’s respect and friendship.
Many may have the question in their mind: whose side is Yaksha on? Well, his team was sent by South Korea, but by the end of the film, it seems that he has gone rogue. From now on, his team will be monitoring global-level threats, the first of which seems to be in London.
If we consider the Moon administration that governed South Korea until the presidential elections in March 2022, the country has seen many lows with Japan, something for which multiple causes have been cited. These range from territorial claims to the mistreatment of colonial Korea by Japan and Japan’s refusal to pay reparations for its mistreatment of the South Korean women who were forced into slavery by Japan during World War II. Furthermore, while Japan rushed to settle past apologies earlier, “apology fatigue” has gotten worse during the Moon administration and has made Japan feel it is unnecessary to make the first move to repair its relations. Now we know that the name “Moon” was intentionally used as a motif to showcase the rift between Japan and South Korea.
D7 aka Ozawa
Ozawa is the antagonist in the film. He is the one who works for Japan and is responsible for looking after the 107 Japanese double agents deployed all over East Asia. Given that Moon was the schism between South Korea and Japan (and North Korea), and Yaksha worked for South Korea, it’s only natural to include a Japanese character. It would be wrong to say that the film tries to whitewash South Korea and tarnish Japan, but it does seem like it. However, we can look at Ozawa in another way. He symbolizes that one black horse that is responsible for compromising not just Japan’s relations with South Korea but those with all the nations of East Asia. And his death would be the first step toward friendly relations between not just the two, but North Korea as well.
“Yaksha: Ruthless Operations” does manage to give each of the main characters a distinct arc, but depends upon the viewer to understand it fully. If one wants to understand the motives of each character, one has to delve into the political background that is showcased in the film. In this way, the film weaves its storyline, i.e., by using diplomatic relations as the means to develop and drive the characters.
While the name of the movie does point to Yaksha’s ruthless attitude, it can also be used to signify the under-the-table operations, including the exchange of intel and illegal transactions, that have often led to the brutal deaths of all those people who fought for their country because they considered it noble, including Yaksha’s former teammates.