The Yellow Sea (2010) - Na Hong-jin. (Korean with subs)


Synopsis - Gu-nam (Ha Jung-woo) is an immigrant Korean working in a province in China as a taxi driver. His has wife left him with their young daughter, to work in South Korea promising to send money back to them. However he's not heard from her since she's left and descends into heavy drinking and gambling, finding himself heavily in debt. A local gangster, Myun Jung-hak (Kim Yoon-seok), offers him a deal to clear his debt; travel to South Korea and kill a businessman for him. Gu-nam out of desperation accepts but things quickly take a turn for the FUBAR.....

Na Hong-jin's previous film was The Chaser in 2008, about a serial killer, which I really liked. For one thing it had the most exciting and well shot foot chase scene I've seen in some time and there are several excellent foot chase scenes to be found here. The two main protagonists of that film also star in this film, but there's a different flavour to this than his début effort.

Myun Jung-hak, much like in The Chaser is the obvious prescence in a very showy role, all swagger and improbably hard-to-kill gangster that seem to show up in these Korean thrillers. Seriously, one stab with a knife is enough to dispatch a typical 'western' crime lord; here that would barely cause him to scratch it. However Ha Jung-woo does manage to counter-balance that with a quiet intensity as Gu-nam.

It's slickly shot and directed, mixing the style of something like Michael Mann and the obvious styling of someone like Park Chan-wook in some of the action beats. There's enough twists and turns in the script to keep us engaged in it's runtime of 140 minutes. However it's the first half of the film that is the most interesting of the film, mixing the grimy realism of life in the bottom 10% of the population in the country and feeling like a low budget heist/noire thriller as he goes about casing the job to assassinate this unknowing businessman. Interspersed with imagery and symbolism regarding his guilt at his wife leaving and jealousy that she may have left him as well as an interesting wild dog motif throughout. However midway through it explodes into an altogether different beast, reminding me strangely of The Fugitive, with numerous chases up mountains, across highway blockades (I almost expected a Korean Tommy Lee Jones to show up saying, he doesn't care if he's guilty or not, extreme acts of violence and brutality and all the way through a dark comic undertow to it from Na Hong-jin. The violence is in that overblown and bloody style, that seems to have become common in films from this region, but it's filmed with such style it's less queasy evoking more immature amusement at the improbable feats of violence.

It's a film that is full of implausibilities and isn't as tightly controlled as his previous film. It loses it's way in the second half, not that it's not a fun watch, it's just feels like a missed opportunity. It's overall not a film that will live long in the memory but it is a perfectly serviceable and exciting thriller.