Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Yellow Sea, dir/scr. Na Hong-jin, st. Kim Yoon-seok, Ha Jung-woo

It should come as no surprise that The Yellow Sea is the first Korean film to ever receive investment from a major Hollywood studio (Fox International Productions) crammed to the hilt as it is with the kind of bone-crunching brawls and chassis-thumping car chases that have become Hollywood’s action/thriller calling cards. Jung-woo plays Gu-nam, a cab driver in a downward spiral of debt and depression after paying for a visa that helped his wife flee to South Korea. Unfortunately for Gu-nam, he reluctantly accepts to take on a contract killing for local gang boss Myun-ga (Yoon-seok), a job that involves him crossing the dangerous Yellow Sea to Seoul, and encountering all manner of betrayal, double-crossings and many webs of interconnecting conspiracies. So far so Fugitive, but it’s the grime and muckiness of it all that sits this film apart from its Western counterparts; from the squalid conditions of Gu-nam’s flat and residences once in Seoul, to the harsh fluorescent lighting of his mark’s apartment hallway, to the very fights themselves, inelegantly hashed out with the hacking and cleaving of knives and hatchets as opposed to the dissociated gunplay cleanliness of Hollywood shoot-outs, there’s an all-pervading film of oily filthiness that cleverly serves to strip the glam from Gu-nam’s action-hero, turning him into a very viable nobody, merely desperate to find his wife and pay his debts rather than, say, heroically dispatching bad guys for queen and country. Yoon-seok is similarly persuasive in his portrayal of the low-budget, deadpanning crime-boss Myun-ga, a stoic, impassively-faced, at times almost super-human antagonist, as he stabs and meat-bone-clubs his way through the masses in order to eliminate his loose-end. The plot is fairly labyrinthine and you may struggle as I did to keep up with all the many narrative twists, turns and re-twists, but The Yellow Sea, is handsomely produced, exhilaratingly choreographed, and come the final scenes, surprisingly moving.