By Hemanth Kissoon
At nearly two-and-a-half hours you don’t even notice the running time this is so entertaining. Though not as tight, or as compelling, or as original as director Hong-jin Na’s debut, the masterful THE CHASER, but then what is? We’re again in pursuit thriller territory, but here the carnage and scale have been ramped up. Its closest movie sibling in terms of tone is probably Seung-wan Ryoo’s CITY OF VIOLENCE. When the action starts it doesn’t let up.
Proceedings kick off in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture – the region where North Korea, China and Russia meet. According to the titles, 50% of the Joseonjok population rely on illegal activity, or legally live and work in South Korea to survive. Our lead is Gu-nam (Jung-woo Ha), who is a mess. His wife has gone to Seoul, South Korea to make a living, but he hasn’t heard from her in awhile; long enough for people to think she’s left him, become a prostitute or been murdered. He owes 60,000 yuan to the underworld that got her visa. It’s a phenomenal sum of money for a cab driver to be able to pay off, and Gu-nam turns to gambling and drinking. Compounding matters his toddler daughter has to be looked after by his mother. Then comes along a proposition by gangster Myun-ga (Yun-seok Kim): kill someone in Seoul and his debts will be wiped. However, mess it up, or not complete within the 10 day timespan, Gu-nam’s family will be killed. Needless to say, nothing goes to plan for anyone. The level of mayhem and collateral damage is extraordinary. Everyone, including the police, are shown to be muppets; but luck, resourcefulness and sheer badassery appears to be being commended. Both Myun-ga and Gu-nam take beatings that no mere mortal could stand.
Weirdly there is a sort of karmic morality to what is happening, except the grander scheme – where poverty drives people to somehow better their lives – which is not shoved down our throats, instead is quietly in the background. It could be interpreted that THE YELLOW SEA is about men and their love for the women in their lives, though that is buried deep in the maelstrom. There is plenty of gore, but in a sort of Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 1980s kinda way – you know COMMANDO, THE RUNNING MAN, etc. It gets to be funny in places. Who would’ve guessed that you could chortle as you see someone pull an axe out of another’s head? The looks gets too shaky-camera and fast editing at times, which is a shame, as the director should’ve had more confidence in the choreography. There is a sort of balls-to-the-wall nuttiness that Hollywood dreams of.
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