Sitges 2011: THE YELLOW SEA Review

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Sitges 2011: THE YELLOW SEA Review
Korean director Na Hong-jin returns to Sitges to present his latest film, The Yellow Sea. It's been a while since his previous directorial effort The Chaser, which gathered quite an international success. And with such credentials, the expectations for his new action thriller were quite high.

The film revolves around Gu-nam, a Korean man who lives in China near the border between the two Koreas and Russia. Life isn't easy for the people living there, and most of them make a living from illegal activities in order to survive. Gu-nam works as a taxi driver as he waits for news from his wife, who crossed to South Korea searching for a better life with the help of an underworld network. Crushed by his debts, Gu-nam decides to accept an offer in exchange for cleaning all his financial problems: he'll receive free passage to South Korea to kill a prominent businessman. What seems to be an easy job quickly escalates to an awful (and bloody) mess when a group of Korean mafia gets involved, forcing Gu-nam to run for his life while trying to get in touch with his missing wife.

With a total runtime of 156 minutes The Yellow Sea is a long film. Featuring an episodic structure, we follow the main character as he turns from ordinary taxi driver to amateur hitman to fugitive. The problem is sometimes things take a while to start moving and the film could benefit from some cuts to help smooth its pace. But once things get started it's easy to recognize the elements that made The Chaser such an interesting film. The action is shot with a wonderful sense of energy with good camera and editing work that places you right into the action. And as with the previous Hong-jin film, chase scenes become central pieces of the movie. As we've come to expect from this kind of Korean production The Yellow Sea is outstanding from a technical standpoint, with scenes like a car chase setpiece with multiple cars involved which is specially remarkable.

The problem with the film, as already stated is its excessive runtime. As the film comes closer to its ending and the multiple characters and storylines get together it's quite difficult to remember and understand every character's motivations, and a couple of twists in the end don't make it easier. Once the film is finished, however, and you get the whole picture everything fits into place pretty well.

All in all, despite its flaws, The Yellow Sea emerges as an interesting action thriller, with some scenes that will keep you firmly grasped to your seat that keep proving that Na Hong-jin has a deserved place among today's most interesting Korean filmmakers.

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More about Yellow Sea

CashBaileyOctober 13, 2011 4:47 PM

I thoroughly concur with this review. While it's too long it's definitely gripping enough to keep you watching.

I think they could have easily trimmed the running time by cutting the big car chase after the scene on the wharf and not have made an ounce of difference to the continuing story.

While nowhere near as tight and exhausting as THE CHASER this is still a movie I recommend don't hesitate in recommending.

shane.webstuffOctober 14, 2011 6:14 AM

You should check out the "directors cut" (which I assume is really a producers cut), where they cut out about 20min of footage.

I've seen both versions and I could hardly tell the difference, the stuff that they cut wasn't necessary, plus it was only little things here and there. But in terms of pacing it has a huge effect. It's a much tighter and faster film.

While still being a bit of a disappointment after the awesomeness that was The Chaser, I thought this was a pretty solid follow up (especially the directors cut).

CashBaileyOctober 14, 2011 5:23 PM

Is there an official release for that? I'd be interested to see it.

Saying that Korean movies tend to be too long is like saying the sun will rise in the morning. And while I admire and envy their creative freedom and uncompromising attitudes to how they tell their stories sometimes it seems just over-indulgent, Especially with their light, fluffy rom-coms that regularly top two hours.

mikeyt34November 19, 2011 3:48 AM

I loved the acting, the cinematography, and the direction. However I didn't enjoy the disjointed narrative and inabililty fully understanding all of the characters motivations. The Chaser is easily my favorite all time Korean film, this film was good but the story needed to be tightened up and sussed out better. I will look forward to Na's next effort, however after watching this one after it was all said and done was a bit disappointing in it's narrative.