The Yellow Sea (Siff 2011)

The Yellow Sea[ South Korea (Korean), 2010, 140 minutes ]
Director: Na Hong-jin
Principal Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Kim Yoon-suk
See it: June 10, 11 at SIFF

DISCLOSURE: Due to technical difficulties at a press screening, I saw this film without subtitles, and I don’t understand Korean. I chose to stay and watch, but my review is based solely on what I was able to understand without ANY dialogue to help.

The Yellow Sea is an action-packed, South Korean movie that centers on a man drowning in gambling debts and desperately needing a way to pay off the mobsters who beat him each morning. He is offered a way to repay his debts in full and earn a little extra money; all he has to do is be smuggled across the Yellow Sea and assassinate a businessman. Of course, nothing can be that easy, and our main character finds himself beat to the punch by a couple of assassins who murder his target first. As luck would have it, he becomes the main police suspect and spends the rest of the film on the run from the both the law and mob hit men.

Overall Entertainment / Enjoyment: B+
This was the first time I have ever watched an entire foreign language film without any subtitles, and though I’m sure I missed some plot points in the dialogue, the action and the fact that this stuck to the typical Asian-mob-movie protocol meant I could follow a lot of what was going on. The few things that did stand out as unusual to me were some unexplained sex scenes (no dialogue during them, so I don’t think there were big plot points being revealed, and there didn’t seem to be any reasoning to explain why they were there at all) and a whole lot of filming of people eating – noodles, seaweed, sausages, a moderate-sized animal cooked in a pot and being devoured by mobsters… so much eating! There were also some really resilient men in this movie who survived being stabbed, shot, thrown from trucks, hacked in the back with an axe, and a lot of good old fist-fighting before finally succumbing their lives – great for the action, slightly less great for believability. Overall I really enjoyed this movie – it was good without dialogue, and I hope it would be even better with the subtitles explaining a bit more of the action.

Cinematography and Action Scenes: A
This film is visually stunning, and the chase scenes are captivating and inventive. The use of knives, hatchets, and clubs is well choreographed and interesting to watch.

Siff Provided Synopsis
Korean director Na Hong-jin (The ChaserR) crosses the border into Northeastern China, where hard-gambling Gu-nam is a taxi driver in the Yanbian Province. He’s also living under a mountain of debt and waiting for his wife to deliver on her promise to send money back from Seoul. That was six months ago, and Gu-nam hasn’t spoken with her since. When he’s not working or in the local gambling halls, he’s tortured by an imagined extramarital affair. After Gu-nam is fired from his job, the local crime boss offers him a way to wipe out all of his debts: he must return to South Korea and assassinate a man whom he knows little about. Gu-nam arrives in Seoul anxious to see his wife, but instead ends up being chased by the police. Learning that he’s wanted for a murder he didn’t commit, Gu-nam realizes he’s been conned into a trap—one made all the more dangerous when a professional assassin is sent after him. Packed with action scenes including a much-ballyhooed car chase through Busan, this gritty thriller was a box-office smash in Korea.


Provided Film Synopsis

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