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'Typhoon' lacks creative energy

2005/12/14 | 73 views | Permalink | Source

"Typhoon" is a big, clunky movie containing some refreshing sights but lacking the creative energy we expect from director Kwak Gyeong-taek who built his name with the 2001 hit flick Friend.

Unlike the previous drama that tackles the theme of friendship in an insightful manner, Kwak just opted for an easy path by following the so-called "Hollywood formula". The big budget - 15 billion won in the production cost only - and the star-studded casting including Korea's top heartthrob Jang Dong-gun are combining to create strong media buzz.

But its theme is unbearably trite, at least for Koreans: the crisis of the Korean Peninsula due to the remnants of the Cold War conflict. What happened to the admirable cinematic sensibility of Kwak who captured the multilayered relations of small buddies in Busan who are destined to confront each other when they become grown-ups?

Perhaps, Kwak might have been under pressure to create a sort of "Korean Wave" film that can be exported to other Asian countries by shooting some scenes in Thailand and Russia. However, foreign locations do not automatically turn a film into an international (or Asian, in this case) blockbuster. Even some Korean might not understand the deep sadness of the main character Sin, a pirate in the waters of South Asia who was formerly a North Korean refugee.

Sin, played by Jang Dong-gun, hatches a pernicious scheme: He leads other pirates to attack an American ship and steal its secret cargo of satellite guidance receiver systems that can be used for nuclear missiles.

It turns out that the United States is covertly having such devices manufactured in Taiwan and shipped to Japan in order to beef up its defense, particularly against China, a new regional powerhouse.

When it comes to geopolitics, the film depicts the United States as a shortsighted bully who still abuses its military might and thinks it can control smaller nations like South Korea at will. The judgment about whether this logic makes sense is up to the audiences.

When South Korean intelligence authorities receive tips about the pirate and his background, they fear something terrible might hit the Korean Peninsula. So special agent Gang Se-jong (Lee Jung-jae) is dispatched to arrest Sin, prompting chase scenes in various places.

Given that the film is classified as what the PR promoters call "an action blockbuster", such chase scenes should be visually exciting. Unfortunately, most of the hide-and-seek scenes are far from inspiring, much less interesting. Particularly disappointing is the chase which takes place in the southern port city of Busan. It's simply B-rated, boring car chase scene offering no fresh angles or excitement whatsoever.

Director Kwak's excuse: by the time he returned to Busan for the car chase scene, he spent almost all the budget, so the quality inevitably went down. This is just nothing more than a lame excuse. The movie producers spent quite a big money on the casting (Jang's soaring popularity means equally soaring fees) and foreign locations. But why did it fail to provide at least one great chase scene that could leave a deep impression on the audiences?

The movie revolves around the suffering of North Korean refugees, a group of people who used to be shunned by both Koreas. Now, South Korea is finally accepting North Korean refugees who risk their lives in the process of escaping from the totalitarian regime, but in the past - when Sin was a small boy - the South Korean government did not accept the North Koreans due to the complicated diplomatic problems.

But is it really plausible that a single North Korean pirate who have hatred toward both Koreas because he and his family members were denied a right to seek refuge in the South undertakes a treacherous plan that could destroy the entire peninsula?

Director Kwak seems to think so. Sin steers his 'ship of revenge' into the eye of a big Typhoon which is headed toward the Korean Peninsula, and Korean soldiers including Gang, a symbol of patriotism, are rushing to block the act of terror.

Some of the computer graphics involving the ship threatened by a fiery Typhoon are impressive, and many audiences will surely love Jang's charismatic images, not least because he's a bad yet handsome guy.

Considering plenty of publicity thanks to the Korean Wave star Jang, "Typhoon" is unlikely to end up a storm in a teacup on the Korean box office. But whether the much-hyped storm can hit other nations is as uncertain as where fickle Typhoons are headed for.

By Yang Sung-jin

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