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[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Yellow Sea": The Bloody Chase to No man's Land

2011/09/24 | 952 views |  | Permalink

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Na Hong-jin's "The Yellow Sea" might not be as tightly woven as his previous hit "The Chaser", but for all its loose ends, this is an action-packed thrill ride not to be missed. The film dominated the box office in its first weekend and continued its success both in Korea and abroad. The film is gruelling both in length and content, so be prepared to have your patience-and stomach-truly tested

When the film was released in Korea late last year, it gripped over 25% of the total ticket sales in its opening weekend. But with a painstaking length of 156 minutes, Twentieth Century Fox saw it necessary to cut the Korean release down to 140 minutes for international screenings. This "director's cut" was supposedly cut to make the film more cinematic and also rearrange a scene or two to create better flow. (A good comparison between the two versions can be found here.) This review is based on the international version.

"The Yellow Sea" follows Kim Goo-nam (Ha Jung-woo), a taxi driver in the city of Yanbian in North-eastern China as he struggles to pay his $10,000 USD debt to crime lords in the area. The money was borrowed to send his wife to Korea, although he has not heard back from her since she departed. This is a desperate man whose life is not his own until he repays all that he owes and unearths the mystery of his wife's whereabouts.

Stricken with the frustration of not having heard from his wife, and his dire monetary predicament, he accepts an assassination job by the local underground crime boss Myeon Jeong-hak (played brilliantly by Kim Yun-seok). Soon he finds himself being smuggled into Korea with just over a week to kill his target. Things get very messy fast. When Kim Goo-nam's contact in Yanbian disappears, he is left chasing shadows of his wife and fleeing from the authorities, as well as two violent crime lords intent on his death.

"The Yellow Sea" scores no points against it for presentation as this cinematic spectacle in thrilling and well choreographed. The many chase scenes are adrenaline rushes of pure suspense. One or two did contain questionable conclusions, but overall "The Yellow Sea" did well to depict the panic and desperation our hero suffers.

The film loosely divides itself into four parts based on our hero's mission and identity which are thrust upon him. However, there is a greater divide between the film's two halves. The first is where it really grabs you, as Na Hong-jin's set-up of events really captivates and locks you in. The suspense that manifests is palpable as the unknown is fully invested in without any safety net or sense of comfort. While the first half fills the pot and puts a flame under it, it is what follows that really sets the pot to boil. The screen is consumed with blood, violence, and mutilation that never appear to subside, as the viewer is forced to gorge on scene after scene of exhausting bloodshed and mayhem. Whilst still masterfully done, it was at this stage in the film that I began to question just how much of the same bloody chase motif I could take. Hordes of thugs or police on the chase can only be digested a limited number of times and "The Yellow Sea" definitely put me in the red of my gore-gauge.

"The Yellow Sea" is a cinematic and thrilling ride into a dingy underworld that not everyone will wish to take. Na Hong-jin is Charon paddling us into his underworld. It's dark, beautiful, indulgent and shouldn't be missed.

-C.J Wheeler (

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