Tag: south korea

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.

Right Now, Wrong Then

Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

Viewers unaccustomed to careful observation and extracting meaning between the lines will certainly walk away from “Right Now, Wrong Then,” written and directed by Hong Sang-soo, feeling confused, perhaps frustrated, because, on the outside, nothing profound happens in the chance meeting of an art-house film director (Jae-yeong Jeong) and a painter (Min-hee Kim). Cheon-soo and Hee-jeong meet, drink coffee, eat sushi, attend a gathering at a cafe, and part ways. One might wonder, “What’s the point in telling this story?” The answer is in the structure.

With a running time of two hours, the picture is divided into two. At sixty minutes, we have seen all there is to see in the meeting of strangers. At minute sixty-one, we are thrusted back into the story, title card included, where Cheon-soo is looking around an unfamiliar place—but now familiar to us—just as he did when we first laid eyes on his unconfident demeanor. And therein lies the magic of the film: It is a second chance to look at something… but this time more closely, more intensely. We note of similarities and differences, obvious and subtle: the placement of the camera, when it decides to go in for a closeup, how characters react to one another and what they choose to reveal or keep hidden depending on the flow of conversation. We have all been in a situation where we wondered what might have happened if we have done or said something differently, had been more honest, more daring or straightforward.

Seemingly a romance picture, certainly the plot is designed to evoke such a feeling, I believe the material is smarter than its initial premise. So many movies, even romantic comedies, particularly those that stick to tried-and-true formulas, direct their attention on action, what happens next, whether the main players will live happily ever after before the end credits roll. Here is a picture that asks us to live in the moment, to engage, to be aware of the thoughts and feelings behind and between what people decide to share with one another. Sometimes they even surprise themselves with how much they’ve admitted to, an occurrence that happens in real life when we are with someone we genuinely connect with at the time.

Jeong and Kim are so natural in their roles that it does not feel as though they are putting on a performance. Their body language—such as how they look down a lot, how they smile when they feel uncomfortable, their go-to physical pleasantries just to be polite—look like something that we can observe at a nearest coffee shop. The picture conjures up a warm feeling of familiarity but we are compelled to continue watching because the details are specific enough to these characters who are so different from one another. The two of them being at least ten years apart in age is only the tip of the iceberg. We wonder how it is going to work.

“Right Now, Wrong Then” are for those with patience and deep imagination. It makes one wonder how, had a third chance meeting been presented, might have the director and the painter related to one another on a deeper level. It also makes us look into our relationships with others and perhaps some of us may be inspired to make them better somehow. And if the power of film is measured by how much it can push its audience into taking action, then by such measurement the picture is a glorious success.