Friday, 18 November 2011

The Yellow Sea

The streets of Seoul at rush hour.
Sometimes programming at the Robert Burns Cinema in Dumfries far exceeds my expectations and the screening of The Yellow Sea (2010) is a very good case in point. This action thriller is the first ever Korean production to receive investment from a major Hollywood studio. Fox international Productions co-financed the film to a tune of 20% of the production budget on the strength of South Korean film director and screenwriters Na Hong-Jin debut film The Chaser (2008).
Gu-nam and Myun-ga.

Na’s latest film portrays a desperate man who crosses the dangerous sea of the title in order to carry out a contract killing. This man is Gu-nam a cab driver from Yanji City in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, a region between North Korea, China and Russia, where some 800,000 Korean–Chinese live, these people are known as Joseonjok’s and if the opening credits are to be believed most are involved in illicit activities. His wife left him and her wee daughter to travel to Korea to earn some money 6 months ago but he has not heard from her since. A cab driver by day he plays mah-jong in the evening to earn the money to repay the loan for his wife’s travel visa. We discover as the film goes on Gu-nam is not the most fortunate of men and with serious gambling debts mounting up does not know where to turn. One day after a particular bad night at the mah-jong tables he is approached by a local gangster called Myun-ga who offers him the chance to earn enough money to pay all his debts and have a chance to reunite with his wife if he travels to Seoul and kills a man called Kim Seng-hyun. Our insignificant cab driver crosses the yellow sea and prepares to carry out the deed at the same time carrying out a search for his estranged wife. However, just before he can make his move, the target is killed right before his eyes leading Gu-nam to be framed for the killing. He makes his escape with the police and various very bad human beings’ hot on his trail.
Myun conducts business.

Ha Jung-woo plays the outsider Gu-nam and KimYun-seok plays Myun-ga both men had worked with the director on his previous award winning film The Chaser, which is about a Korean serial killer and was also seen as the start of a new generation of Korean thrillers. Although Ha’s acting skills are excellent, its Kim who steels the show, as the vicious knife and axe wielding crime kingpin from Yanji City, ever time he’s on the screen.

Gu-num agrees to carry out the contract killing.

This is one hell of a movie with its sharp story and a blatant refusal to allow the action to slacken at anytime and one with some really enjoyably laugh out loud dark humor. Its also a film which succeeds in developing intriguing characters, Gu-nam, although a flawed and pathetic loser to whom nothing ever seems to go right, is a very likable protagonist gaining the sympathy of the cinema audience who are willing him to come through the mess he’s got himself into, pay of his debts and live happily ever after with wife and child. You’re just going to have to see this excellent film if you require knowing how it pans out, before the Americans can do their remake!!

Perhaps things are finally getting better for the cab driver?

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