The Yellow Sea
Korean director Na Hong-Jin took
international audiences by storm with his feature debut The Chaser,
a riveting thriller that toyed masterfully with the conventions of the
serial killer genre. Recent follow up The Yellow Sea cements his
position as one of the most exciting proponents of the New Korean
cinema, and proves every bit as engrossing and inventive as his lauded
Desperate to escape the impoverished
Southern Chinese province of Yanbian, ethnic Korean cab driver Gu-Nam
(Ha Jung-Woo) pays a local mob boss to arrange a visa and transportation
to Korea for his wife, the idea being that sheíll send money once she
starts working and he will eventually join her in their new homeland.
The only problem is that shortly after arriving Gu-Namís wife promptly
disappears, presumably having shacked up with a new lover. Worse still
Gu-Nam, a gambling addict, has little chance of paying off more than a
fraction of the coupleís debt no matter how many times he is beaten and
Seeking to capitalise on the situation,
local crime lord Myun (Kim Yoon-Seok, who like Jung-Woo also starred in
The Chaser) offers Gu-Nam a way out: if he goes to Korea and
kills a businessman Myun wants dead, the debt will be extinguished.
Moreover heíll have a chance to look for his missing wife in the
process. With no other option Gu-Nam agrees, and there begins one of
the most riveting and action-packed cinematic journeys of recent memory:
within a fortnight Gu-Nam will be a hunted man, and itíll be all he can
do to escape with his life, let alone taking that of the man heís been
hired to kill.
In addition to his two immensely talented
leads, Hong-Jin has also retained the services of Chaser editor
Kim Sun-Min and director of photography Yoo Sang-Seob, and has managed
to once more produce a gutsy, complex film that expertly ratchets up the
tension over its sprawling runtime without lagging for an instant - even
at a pinch under two and a half hours there isnít an ounce of fat to be
found. Ha Jung-Woo is perfectly cast as the would-be assassin, and
proves eminently capable of not only carrying a film of this magnitude
but of taking an audience with him on an journey laden with pathos and
very literally drenched in blood.
Martin Scorsese, long rumoured to be
directing a Hollywood remake of The Chaser, has been lavish in
his praise of Jung-Woo, who amongst other plaudits netted the Best Actor
gong at the 2011 Asian Film Awards for his role as Gu-Nam. Yoon-Seok
also steals nigh on every scene heís in, coming firmly from the
grizzled, menacing berserker school of crime lords and bringing new
meaning to the term Ďhatchet job.í The filmís slightly bleached-out
cinematography and muted blue-grey colour palettes mimic the loss and
alienation experienced by its central character, a stranger in his
ancestral land (ĎWear a baseball cap. You stand outí he is
advised upon his arrival in Korea). The action sequences, meanwhile,
are genuinely thrilling, and Hong-Jinís audacious genre-bending has once
again marked him as one of the worldís leading proponents of the
adrenaline-fuelled crime epic.
The Yellow Sea is an expert piece of
work in every regard, recalling all thatís best about recent South
Korean cinematic standout such Oldboy and I Saw the Devil.
Itís so bloody it makes Reservoir Dogs look like Curly
Sue and yet the violence never feels gratuitous or extravagant,
rather a natural consequence of the gritty criminal underworld in which
the hapless Gu-Nam finds himself. Car chases, foot chases, fights to
the death, a man repeatedly running for his life, more fights to the
death, more car chases: Jason Bourne can go suck a dick. If you want
real action coupled with unrelenting edge-of-your-seat suspense, The
Yellow Sea is where itís at.
A gargantuan 76-minute Making Of
documentary laden with interviews, BTS footage and other goodies, and a
selection of trailers.