Bounty Films // 2010 // 140 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // April 2nd, 2012
The Only Thing He Must Not Have Crossed.
While Korean thriller The Yellow Sea is frequently thrilling, it is not a completely satisfying experience, as one or two niggles prevent it attaining the heights Korean cinema reached in the noughties with the likes of Park Chan-wook's Vengeance trilogy, or Jee Woo-Kim's A Bittersweet Life.
Ku-nam (Ha Jung-woo) is an immigrant living in China, who spends his days gambling in an attempt to pay off the debts he has accrued since his wife disappeared while working away in South Korea. As Ku-nam's debts continue to mount up, raising the ire of local hoodlums tp whom he owes money, he is approached by local crime boss Myun-ga (Kim Yun-seok), who offers Ku-nam the chance to write off all his debts. In exchange he must travel to South Korea and carry out a murder on his behalf. Though reluctant, Ku-nam accepts the proposal, as it may offer him the only chance he has of ever tracking down his wife.
Once on Korean soil, Ku-nam begins to meticulously plan the murder, whilst making small inroads into his wife's whereabouts. When the time comes to carry out the crime, Ku-nam is startled to find a rival gang has already murdered his target. With the police quickly on his tail and the rival gang also in hot pursuit, Ku-nam finds himself in a desperate race to find his wife before it's too late.
The opening act of director Na Hong-jin's The Yellow Sea is especially strong. Chief protagonist Ku-nam is presented as a rather pathetic figure that is barely able to function without his wife. His days are spent either gambling or waiting in vain for his wife's return. Ha Jung-woo really captures the lost spirit of Ku-nam, which makes it extremely easy for the viewer to warm to him. His interactions with the brash Myun-ga are riveting, as the level of menace is first confirmed when Myun-ga threatens the life of Ku-nam's mother and child when Ku-nam becomes hesitant about the job.
When Ku-nam arrives in Korea, the film takes a more action-oriented direction, injecting a little more pace to proceedings. Frequently, these action scenes feature sporadic outbreaks of violence, which stand out due to the lack of gunplay. Instead, making the film arguably more brutal, the weapons of choice are knives and hatchets. This adds a real intensity to the fight scenes, helping the film standout from standard Hollywood fare. A chase sequence, which directly follows the botched murder, is spectacular, as what seems like an entire police division pursues Ku-nam through busy streets, mowing down anyone or anything that gets in their way.
Unfortunately, there's no escaping the fact that The Yellow Sea could have quite easily trimmed 30 minutes from its running time with no ill effects. The second act simply drags on for too long, and rather than offering new revelations, one gets the feeling that the film is trudging over the same ground and simply reaffirming what we already know. As it is, the 140-minute cut of the film (which runs 3 minutes longer than the U.S. release) suffers from pacing issues as momentum is built up, only to be lost again. There's also an issue with regard to how the myriad plot twists result in the film treading somewhat implausible ground. Whereas Ku-nam is very much an everyman at the start of the film, he takes on something resembling a John McClane (Die Hard) persona the longer things go on. While this may not harm the film's action movie credentials, it does detract a little from what was previously a strong and grounded character.
There's no denying The Yellow Sea (Blu-ray) looks fantastic, with a razor sharp 1080p transfer. Colors are vibrant, and are especially strong during night scenes. The level of detail is also exemplary, with the damage to Ku-nam's increasingly battered body being crystal clear. Audio also impresses with an excellent 5.1 mix, which is only available in the film's native Korean.
With the exception of several trailers for the film, Bounty Films' Region B release of The Yellow Sea features just one special feature. However, as this comes in the form of an excellent making-of -- which clocks in at one hour, 17 minutes -- it's not to be sniffed at. Covering all the bases of the film's production, the making-of offers an excellent look behind the scenes.
Though its length undoubtedly dulls its edges, director Na Hong-jin's The Yellow Sea is still an excellent thriller, with numerous standout moments delivered with aplomb by the excellent cast.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Bounty Films
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Korean)
Running Time: 140 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated