There is something strangely beautiful about an action thriller that comes together. Perhaps it is because we are so used to Hollywood vomiting a thirty odd strong contingent of mediocre revenge flicks every year, or perhaps it is something darker within us.
Whatever the reason, Na Jong-Hin’s second film, ‘The Yellow Sea’, is immensely satisfying. Ha Jung-woo is Gu-nam, a debt ridden taxi driver living in the Yanbian region of China, who, with a young daughter at home, sets out for South Korea to fulfil a ‘job’ (you can guess what kind) for a local criminal with the added bonus of being able to look for his long departed wife. In short, the setup has all the makings for an average film that hits all the buttons and at least doesn’t make you feel like you’ve wasted your money.
A breakneck final act in which, first time round, you won’t really know what’s going on
But Na Jong-Hin does more than that. The film unfolds in four chapters, with the first two unravelling slowly, but gradually picking up in pace to a breakneck final act in which, first time round, you won’t really know what’s going on. But that doesn’t matter, by that point you’re so invested in these memorable characters and enjoying the brutal violence so much that you’ve even forgotten it’s in Korean.
Ha does a fantastic job with the protagonist, playing a man screwed by his own complete trust in people
Ha does a fantastic job with the protagonist, playing a man screwed by his own complete trust in people that are so obviously untrustworthy. That said, he is an absolute hero, harbouring the inner strength and physical resilience of Joan of Arc and Jason Bourne rolled into one.
Yun-seok Kim is another highlight as Myun-ga, a wonderfully charismatic antagonist in a film that tilts from tension to action in an increasingly out of control manor. But that’s the beauty of it and, crucially, it’s really funny. Na manages to strike that perfect chord between genuinely caring about what happens to these characters, then laughing your arse off when you see it happening.
I found myself salivating with delight as I revelled in Tarantino-esque gore
I found myself salivating with delight as I revelled in Tarantino-esque gore delivered with the energy of Greengrass, and the underlying cheekiness of a Scorsese crime picture.
This is by no means a perfect film. It is exhausting watching towards the end where the plot becomes gloriously mental. Having said that, it is immensely satisfying, so next time you’re thinking of watching ‘Taken 3’, don’t; watch this instead.
You can find ‘The Yellow Sea’ at amazon.com, cinemaparadiso.co.uk, or in the back of your local DVD store, in the horrifically generalised ‘Foreign Cinema’ section.
Article by Nick Inglis – reach Nick at nickinglis77 at gmail.com
Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a ‘recovering musician’, he is the author of The Berlin Diaires, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site.