The Yellow Sea
The Yellow Sea is the latest splatter movie from the twisted mind of director Na Hong-jin, who also brought us The Chaser. The movie follows Ha Jung-woo as Gu-nam, a taxi driver in the seemingly perilous Yanji City. Having never been to Yanji City, we can only go along with The Yellow Sea’s depiction – and description – of the mini-metropolis. Suffice to say, however, that the place is unlikely to see an increase in tourist numbers from the onscreen portrayal here. In short, it looks like the Asian answer to Mogadishu, and, inevitably, that is far from a compliment. An opening scroll informs the audience that Yanji City is located on the Chinese side of the China-Russia-North Korea border, and is a ‘golden triangle’ for gang lords and crime. Certainly, the film’s central character, Gu-nam, is in a miserable situation – his wife has left him to go to Seoul (and has ceased contact for six months) and he is also in a massive amount of debt due to a gambling addiction. Can things get any worse?
Well, if you happen to take up a gangster on an offer of quick cash in exchange for an assassination, the answer is yes.
Naturally, with the promise of a big pay day dangling over his head, Gu-nam decides to carry out an execution – but all is not as it seems. Indeed, when the object of his murderous intent is slaughtered by someone else, the former taxi operative is framed for a crime he did not commit (or rather, a crime that he did not have the chance to commit). The police are fast on his heels, and the mobsters also want him to dead to protect a very sinister secret... This is The Yellow Sea in a nutshell, and, after a slow-boiling beginning, the movie really moves into gear. Writer-director Hong-jin controls the action in a minimalist but stomach-turning manner, and when violence does erupt, it is both shocking and suspenseful.
The Yellow Sea is not only a more masterfully-controlled film than Na Hong-jin's earlier flick The Chaser, it is also a thoroughly rewarding gangster thriller with adult themes, excellent acting all round, and a mind-bending conclusion. It all adds up to another excellent addition to the burgeoning Korean industry in internationally acclaimed genre outings. And with a Hollywood remake of Old Boy on horizon, we recommend seeing this before the inevitable English language remake comes along and ruins it...