By Han Sang-hee
The new thriller "The Yellow Sea" has been one of the most highly anticipated films of 2010, but beware, this is certainly not for the timid and sensitive.
Na Hong-jin, the brilliant maker of "The Chaser", has employed the two protagonists from the popular thriller - Ha Jung-woo and Kim Yun-seok - to prove once again that shaking the audience to its very core is what he does best.
Gu-nam (played by the excellent Ha) is a taxi driver in the Yanbian Autonomous Prefecture in China and has lost contact with his wife who left for Korea to earn money. With their debt piling up, he eventually loses contact with her and spends his nights with hopeless dreams, cheap beer and unsuccessful games of mah-jong. Gu-nam bumps into assassin Myeon Jeong-hak (Kim) and before he knows it, he is off to Korea to kill a man. Myeon offers to pay Gu-nam's debt if he takes care of a deadly mission in Seoul, but little does Myeon know that Gu-nam agreed to do this not only for the money, but in the desperate hope of finding his wife.
He has 10 days before he has to leave Seoul, and Gu-nam studies his target night after night, but just when he gets ready to strike, he is outdone by strangers who kill the target first. The bewildered Gu-nam gets accused of the murder and to make matters worse, he loses contact with Myeon. Now he starts on a dangerous and thrilling escape from the police and the unknown murderers, while still searching for his wife and Myeon.
In short, this is not a very pleasant movie to watch on a relaxing Friday night. There are many violent scenes that will have viewers cringing, and the sound effects just add more intensity. Aside from the gory graphics of the film, however, it's clean cut, speedy and pulls the viewer into the rusty and dark world of ruthless killers. The car chase held in the dark streets of Busan made headlines for being one of Korea's best chase scenes even before the film's release, and yes, they are impressive thanks to the speedy and smart use of 13 cameras, 50 cars and some 150 crews.
"The Chaser" may have been a tale of two men in a cat and mouse chase but "The Yellow Sea" speaks more from the heart: it delves deeper into the emotions of a young man who simply wants to turn his life right side up.
Ha once again gives an excellent performance, from running and stabbing, to piercing cries and motionless stares. In the scene where he muffles his tears in the mountains, the character uses one of his socks to put pressure on a gun wound as a cry of desperation seeps out: this young man is sad, scared and lost, and has no one else to turn to in this harsh world. Ha consistently captures all these complex emotions perfectly. Even the cold, calm stares shine throughout the film, adding intensity and depth to his character.
Myeon, on the other hand, goes through a transformation in character. The sober dog seller devolves into a ruthless, and probably the most brutal, killer in the movie, without any disconnection or awkwardness in sight. His steely, composed eyes instantly turn into those of a murderer and indeed, he does his job very well.
Whatever the scene and situation, the energy of the two actors is powerful, and this overwhelming rush continues from start to finish. It may be unfair to compare Na's two films, but one thing is certain; this director has a keen eye for detail and speed, along with a deep understanding of spatial effects, fancy yet stable camera work and a knack for gory sequences, and will surely have fans and viewers waiting for his next work as soon as they walk out the theater. Distributed by Showbox.
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