Tag: hong-jin na

The Yellow Sea

The Yellow Sea (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

“The Yellow Sea,” written and directed by Hong-jin Na, is a highly entertaining, sometimes confusing but always interesting, action-thriller from South Korea. It engages the audience by presenting a seemingly straightforward situation and slowly the tentacles of deceit creep out of their hiding places as the protagonist gets deeper into his mission. In addition, the picture offers a sharp eye when it comes to its action scenes, proficiently balancing white-knuckle suspense and well-placed humor.

Gu-nam (Jung-woo Ha), working as a cab driver in China, grows increasingly worried and jealous that his wife, who traveled to South Korea for work, has been cheating on him with no intention of ever coming back—even to provide financial assistance to their child. The pressure to get in contact with her increases with each day because debt collectors need the money that Gu-nam and his wife owe for the visa. It appears most opportune when a leader of the Chinese mafia, Myun (Yun-seok Kim), approaches Gu-nam with an alternative: to go to South Korea and kill a man. Doing so would pay his debt in full. Gu-nam feels he is left with no other choice.

Despite a running time of one hundred thirty minutes, there is never a dull moment because the writer-director has complete control of the material’s tone and tonal changes. Notice that the first third is quite slow, more concerned with showing a man’s difficult situation rather than complicated stunts, and we get a chance to understand how the protagonist’s thinks and recognize his strengths and weaknesses. The rest of the picture offers an opposite approach: fast-paced, adrenaline-driven, noisy. It tests the man to his limits as he follows the strands that might lead to his wife’s whereabouts.

Its chase sequences are especially strong. One takes place in a high-rise apartment building and the other in and on a cargo ship. I found these refreshing because there is something about a mob, whether it be composed of cops or criminals, chasing a man that makes the scene scarier. In many American movies, chases usually involves only two or three people, certainly almost never more than five.

The constant movement in the background, accompanied by screaming and yelling, locks the viewer into paying attention as the distance between the main character and his potential captors grows shorter. In addition, the writer-director is not afraid to make the choice of minimizing the use of guns. Knives are used most often. I smiled at a character using a really thick animal bone, likely to be a femur, as a club. There is creativity here and Na makes smart choices in order to elevate the feel of action sequences.

Another impressive aspect is the film’s use of real cars smashing against one another coupled with really tight editing and most convincing sound effects so that the audience can almost feel the impact of every bump and glass shatter. There is a wonderful balance between close-ups and wide shots so we feel as though every decision by the person behind the wheel counts. There is plenty to appreciate in seemingly simple moments.

The Chaser

The Chaser (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Min-jin (Yeong-hie Seo), a prostitute, is feeling very ill but her boss, Joong-ho (Yun-seok Kim), a former-cop-turned-pimp, insists that she must go to work because he is convinced that his other girls had ran away. Joong-ho is unaware that their most recent customer, Young-min (Jung-woo Ha), is in fact the very same guy who called for the services of the missing girls prior to their disappearances and Min-jin is about to walk into a trap: Young-min has a predilection for bashing a chisel in women’s skulls.

Written by Won-Chan Hong, Shinho Lee, and Hong-jin Na, “Chugyeogja,” also known as “The Chaser,” is an entertaining thriller in every respect but it commands a distinct edge because it also functions as a critique against bureaucracies in the police force and how, while the rules are meant to protect people’s rights, they also end up costing lives.

The villain and the antihero are equally interesting characters and, coupled with an engaging and often unpredictable screenplay, the film holds resonance. I liked the way Young-min is able to talk about his crimes so matter-of-factly, listening to his gruesome acts of violence sounds like someone giving an instruction on how to make a good stew. Ha makes a smart decision in downplaying his character, even during moments when Young-min is bragging about his so-called accomplishments, which is very necessary because the character is all about not attracting too much attention from the public so he may continue to perform his killings in private.

Notice the differences in the way Young-min behaves when he is surrounded by a group of people versus having a one-on-one conversation. There are two different performances. Joong-ho, on the other hand, is quite a lively character with an abrasive sense of humor. I enjoyed the scenes between he and his lowly assistant, Oh-jot (Bon-woong Ko), because the latter almost always receives the short end of the stick. The protagonist’s enthusiasm is also what made him questionable, almost dangerous. When he hopes to accomplish a task, he is willing to go great lengths even if it means disregarding the rules that he knows are there for a reason.

Kim plays his character with such rabid rebellion, at times it makes us wonder whether we should root for him the entire time. The picture does not provide easy answers and I think the point is for us to decide for ourselves if, in this case, the end truly justifies the means.

The chase scenes are first-rate because we get a real sense of geography. It really looks like the chases are taking place in real winding and confusing alleys—various angles of slopes for good measure—found in poor neighborhoods, from the broken glass waiting to be stepped on by someone unwisely walking around without slippers to the awkward black garbage bag waiting to be rummaged by a gang of starving cats. The setting offers natural obstacles for the characters and, in turn, enhances our experience of watching the action unfold.

However, the film, directed by Hong-jin Na, loses bit of power during its final act. The expectation is for Joong-ho and Young-min to have some sort of duel; we want to see it but is it actually necessary? I was not convinced that it needed to happen not only because they are shown in a fight early on but that it also lessens the picture’s message about red tape.