[HanCinema's Film Review] "No Tomorrow"
By William Schwartz | Published on
Hye-ri (played by Park Hyo-joo) is an investigative reporter and Seok-hoon (played by Lee Hyun-wook-I) is her cameraman. Together they just sort of wander around the Korean countryside arbitrarily looking for news stories. Circumstantial evidence pointing to a business operation run by slave labor leads Hye-ri and Seok-hoon to a salt farm located on an isolated island, whose mentally infirm residents lead credence to the rumors. From there, it's a matter of collecting evidence and notifying the police. Or is it really that simple?
"No Tomorrow" is very loosely based on the 2014 Salt Farm Slavery Incident in Jeolla Province. That is, writer/director Lee Ji-seung pretty clearly heard about the case, and asked himself what it would have been like for a reporter to drag up the story piece by piece from an investigative angle. The conclusion he comes to is that the process would not have been an easy one. The real life incident had police involvement from the very beginning, spurred as it was by a letter from one of the victims.
Here though, Hye-ri and Seok-hoon have to go through the thankless task of trying to bring light to what's happening at the salt farm by pretending to be graduate students exceedingly interested in salt harvesting. Their reasons are mercantile- Hye-ri is ambitious, and Seok-hoon would rather go home, but ultimately, she convinces him the messed-up possibilities are enough to warrant their serious attention. Ultimately, Seok-hoon is persuaded, and Hye-ri too is vindicated.
Unfortunately "No Tomorrow" is so focused on the nuts and bolts of investigation that very little is done to distinguish either of them as characters beyond these simple archetypes. The same can be said of the people they meet on the island, all of whom quickly adapt a frosty disposition. To even suggest that "No Tomorrow" has a villain is fairly misleading. Yes, obviously slavery is bad, but aside from the fact that they employ mentally retarded men who can't even explain how they're paid, the actions of the salt farm managers are perfectly consistent with their being private property owners.
Even the secondary mystery that appears after the initial investigation has concluded ends up being surprisingly dry. The clichés in "No Tomorrow" are fairly transparent, such that the final explanation can easily be guessed simply by the existence of extant clues from the first mystery that never ended up factoring into the solution. The fate of one character is clumsily foreshadowed by an apparently cheerful phone call.
Yet for all this "No Tomorrow" is ultimately a very emotionally empty film, rather lacking in thrills even though logically this whole story is obvious thriller material. All the same I can't really hate the movie all that much. On a technical level it's not terrible. But in researching for this review, I was much more engaged looking for details of the actual 2014 Salt Farm Slavery Incident than I was in the specifics nuances of this film. That's pretty weak, and in retrospect, not terribly satisfying either.
Review by William Schwartz
Available on DVD from YESASIA
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.