THE YELLOW SEA (2010)
This ultra-violent thriller bounds with a ceaseless energy as a desperate Korean taxi driver living in China returns home on a murder mission
In the wake of the success of The Chaser two years prior, director Na Hong-jin and stars Ha Jung-woo and Kim Yoon-seok were swiftly reunited for another blood-splattered thriller.
This time the focus is on a Joseonjok, a Korean living in China, in this case in the northeastern Chinese city of Yanji in the Yanbian Prefecture.
Here we meet Gu-nam (Ha Jung-woo), a Korean taxi driver who is struggling to get by, his issues exasperated by an unhealthy gambling addiction.
His wife has left to work in South Korea, but her promises of sending money back have not materialised and he finds himself spiralling into debt. Plagued by nightmares of her cheating on him, Gu-nam is then fired and debt collectors take most of his severance pay.
A local gangster, Myun Jung-hak (Kim Yoon-seok), then offers to pay Gu-nam $10,000 if he kills a businessman back in South Korea. Gu-nam accepts, realising the trip can also provide an opportunity to find his wife.
However, matters becoming increasingly complicated and Gu-nam finds himself being hunted by everyone from the local police to various gangster outfits.
Something Korea has over other film markets, perhaps most notably the US, is it confrontations are levelled out and made more terrifying by a lack of guns. Instead, there are a litany of knives. It gives the underdog a chance, but it also makes the violence more gut churning and real.
While The Yellow Sea has a never-ending run of knife-based violence, it excels itself in one scene when barbaric gangster Myun Jung-hak is attacked in bed and he instead uses a gigantic meat bone to bludgeon his attackers to death.
On several occasions, Gu-nam finds himself in impossible situations, yet somehow he manages to scramble and survive like a desperate soul.
The Yellow Sea has one common sticking point. Its length. A film with so much action and violence rarely soars so close to two and half hours.
The result is it has a somewhat bloated final form, and it might be have been better served by trimming anywhere from 10 to even 30 minutes from its final cut. This is not a terminal criticism though. It hardly meanders along at any point, the action driving your continued engagement.
Director Na would next make The Wailing, another lengthy film, one that we named as the greatest K-Horror ever in 2020, and the extended runtime there perhaps works better than here.
There is a frenetic energy to The Yellow Sea that never rests. Car chases, gang fights, desperate escapes. It allows neither the characters or the audience a moment to catch their breath.
There is barely a character here unwilling to lay everything before them to waste. The result is a powerful piece of Korean cinema that is characteristically violence, action-filled and thrilling.