The Yellow Sea (Hwanghae) (R15)

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner21/10/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 140 mins

A thrilling but gruesome slice of action from South Korean director Na Hong-jin, The Yellow Sea is a genre film that has more to offer than just a high body count.

What’s it all about?
With The Yellow Sea, writer-director Na Hong-Jin follows up his 2008 debut, the crime thriller The Chaser, with another dark foray into the South Korean underworld. Penniless taxi driver Gu-nam has no choice but to accept local smuggler Myun’s lucrative offer to carry out a hit in Seoul – both to pay off his gambling debts but also to track down his wife who fled there to find a better life, but who has yet to send any money home. But when Gu-nam finds the target already dead, he is mistaken for the killer and finds himself on the run from not only the police, but also from the gang who orchestrated the hit, eager to cover their tracks.

The Good
“One more thing,” orders the grizzled Myun (an excellent and menacing Kim Yun-seok) to the wary Gu-nam (Ha Jung-woo) at the start of the film, “you have to bring me his finger.” It’s an exchange that does give some indication of the many slit throats and bludgeoned limbs to come in this grim, hit-gone-wrong thriller, where gangsters are all the nastier for wielding hatchets and knives rather than guns.

Just as you’d expect from a cinema genre as dark as Korea’s, the film is a crescendo of chase and murder-spree scenes and it also has a mangled car count to equal its mangled-body count. But amidst the mayhem, director Na pays close attention to process: the mechanics of the apartment stairwell hit in particular are very well observed. So too is the film’s social backdrop: Na’s camera is especially attuned to the bleak existence of the Joseonjoks (illegal Chinese migrants) living in South Korea, and the scenes where Gu-Nam is being smuggled into the country and is turfed out of a pitch-black container into a stormy pitch-black sea, are some of the film’s most chilling moments.

The Bad
As the running time increases and the action gets larger and louder, the plot does get a bit carried away. A novice fugitive, Gu-nam’s speedy adjustment to life on the run is a little implausible, but thankfully Ha Jung-woo’s convincing performance just about carries it off.

Worth Seeing?
The Yellow Sea is a gruesome outing into the South Korean underworld – one far darker and more bleak than Hollywood could stomach.

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Content updated: 24/02/2020 04:55

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