Sony // 2003 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // June 2nd, 2004
Under siege. Underground.
Considering that Tube is part of the great stream of films coming from South Korea in recent years, it's quite a disappointment. It does work as mindless action entertainment, but distributor Columbia has screwed up the DVD in several ways.
An unconventional detective named Jay (Kim Suk-hoon) has a grudge against a terrorist known as T (Park Sang-min). When T hijacks a subway train in order to pursue his demands, it is up to Jay to stop him and save the day. He is helped by Kay (Bae Du-Na), a young pickpocket who has taken a fancy to him. The plot then twists and turns as T and Jay battle for control over the subway train.
Like Kill Bill, Tube is full of moments taken out of other action films, to the point that it almost feels like a game of "spot the reference." Unlike Kill Bill, however, Tube isn't trying to pay homage to the great action films of the past. It's just strip-mining the action genre to please the audience. Because of this, just about every moment is pure formula.
The film opens with a large shoot-out that is never explained and only exists to get the audience members' pulses flowing and to establish the good and bad guys. It then moves into a slow half-hour in which the major characters are established, sympathy is developed for the passengers of the subway, and it is made painfully clear that Jay and Kay will fall in love. Then, the bad guys take over the subway and it's pretty much wall to wall action until the last frame.
That's not to say that Tube is a terrible film. In fact, the action scenes are great. The opening scene would have been better with some context, but the cinematography is slick and stylish, and there are a couple fantastic car crashes. Yeah, it's derivative silliness, but it's at least well-made derivative silliness. The scenes on the subway are just as good. The camera flies through and around the subway with creativity and control, the hand-to-hand fights are distinct and tough, and the explosions are huge. The scenes in the subway control room are also excellent, and the political conflicts there are often more exciting than what is happening in the actual subway.
The performances are also solid. Kim Suk-hoon is a likeable hero, and he does as well in the quiet moments as he does when he's hanging onto the bottom of a speeding subway car. Park Sang-min is a good villain as well, as he is threatening without delivering too broad a performance. The supporting cast is acceptable, but none of their roles really stands out much.
Less impressive are the plot inconsistencies. I am not sure how large Seoul is, but I am guessing it is not big enough to have a track that a subway train can travel on for half an hour at 140 km/h. T only takes one other terrorist with him, and at one point, they fend off an entire SWAT team. Sometimes the subway seems to be deserted, and other times it is filled with people. Where do they go when it's time for Jay and T to fight? These, of course, are the kind of continuity errors that are always present in action films, but they are pretty hard to ignore in this case.
Toward the end, there are a few surprises that do help Tube distinguish itself slightly. It doesn't end like an American film, and the way it involves Kay in the violence is actually shocking and disturbing.
After their remarkable work with Shiri, I was looking forward to how Columbia would handle another Korean action movie. I am not impressed.
The high point is the video transfer. The film is sharp and clean, with an acceptable amount of grain and plenty of detail. Many of the scenes are dark, but black levels are never a problem.
What is a problem, however, is the sound. The original Korean track is in Dolby 2.0, which has some action in the surrounds but is muted and fuzzy. The Korean DVD of Tube has a Dolby 5.1 EX track and a DTS 6.1 EX track, so the surround mix is certainly available for use. To add insult to injury, the disc also comes with 5.1 tracks in English and French. The voice work on the dub is terrible and obnoxious, but the action scenes fare better, with great use of the sub and surrounds. As a final kick in the ribs, the English subtitles are copied directly from the dub, and are designed for the hearing impaired. That means the subtitle track tells you what every sound in the film is. The translation feels quite inaccurate at times, and the subtitle track fails to translate any signs or instances of Korean lettering. This seriously detracts from the film.
The disc is also fairly light on extras. There is a featurette on the making of the film, which is a decent look at the technical process of creating the action scenes and special effects. It runs just over 20 minutes, and is definitely worth a watch. Also included is a music video of the sappy pop song that plays in the credits. Yay.
Tube isn't a bad action movie, and it's definitely worth a rent for action fans. Take it home, kick back, and enjoy the nice cinematography for a couple of hours. Just don't expect to see anything new. Because of the way that Columbia has handled the disc, however, I can't recommend it as a purchase for anyone. If a foreign film is worth licensing and releasing here, it's worth taking the time and effort to include a proper translation and the original soundtrack.
I am releasing everyone involved with the making of Tube with a request for less derivative entertainment in the future. Columbia is called to my chambers to discuss their level of respect for the films they distribute.
Review content copyright © 2004 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Korean)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Making of Featurette
* Music Video