AKA: The Murderer
Director: Na Hong-jin
Writer: Na Hong-jin, Chihito Ito
Cast: Ha Jung-Woo, Kim Yun-Seok, Chul-Min Lee, Seong-Ha Cho, Jae-hwa Kim, Kwak Do-Won, Ahn Seo-hyun
Running Time: 140 min.
By Jeff Bona
The director of 2008’s The Chaser returns with The Yellow Sea, a down and dirty thriller that doesn’t exactly have the most catchiest title – personally, I would have titled it The Chaser Part II: Even More F*cked Up, which is pretty much the gist of the entire movie.
Gu-nam (Ha Jung-woo) is a depressed cab driver who lives in Yanji City, a region between North Korea, China and Russia. It’s been six months since his wife left Yanji City to take a job in South Korea to make more money. Sadly, Gu-nam hasn’t heard back from her ever since. Where is she? Why hasn’t she come back? Did she take off with another guy? Unable to support himself and his daughter with his low paying salary, Gu-nam turns to gambling, where he makes matters worse by running up a serious debt with thugs who operate the local gambling den.
Aware of Gu-nam’s financial problems, a gangster (Yun-seok Kim) offers him a one-time gig, which involves crossing the Yellow Sea to assassinate a man living in Seoul. In return, the gangster promises to pay off Gu-nam’s debt upon delivered proof of the deceased man’s finger. Gu-nam accepts the job; after all, not only will his debts be paid off, but it will be the perfect opportunity for him to track down his missing wife.
If you’ve seen I Saw the Devil and The Man from Nowhere, and you’re begging for more carnage, then The Yellow Sea is right up your alley; just keep in mind that it’s not as polished as the other two, which isn’t a bad thing. With The Yellow Sea, you won’t find any clean-cut Korean guys prancing around in tailored suits; nor is there any elongated knife fights or martial arts scenes edited with grace and pizazz. What you will find is pure grit, brutal violence and agonizing situations. In short, the The Yellow Sea is like a uncontrollable pit bull that’s just been let out of its cage.
If The Chaser proved that Na Hong-jin was a director to watch out for, then The Yellow Sea proves he’s one of the best filmmakers in the game. With just two movies under his belt, I already consider him to be up there with Park Chan-wook (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) and Kim Ji-woon (A Bittersweet Life). Come to think of it, I actually prefer Na Hong-jin over the latter two in a heartbeat. Na Hong-jin has a more raw approach to filmmaking. He doesn’t rely on style or novelty to reinforce his craft, yet he still delivers an edgy intensity that very few filmmakers are able to capture. Mind you, this is only his second film, but hopefully he’ll remain consistent.
Na Hong-jin reunites himself with both Yun-seok Kim and Jung-woo Ha, the two leading men from The Chaser. If you’re a straight guy, Yun-seok Kim’s performance will having you questioning your sexuality. If you’re a woman, you’ll be fantasizing about him doing inappropriate things to you. I’m not talking about his physical appearance either; I’m talking about the badassness of his character, his ability as an actor and his overall execution. I’ve only seen him in two movies, but he’s already made it on my top 10 list of favorite actors of all time.
Jung-woo Ha doesn’t get to have as much fun as Yun-seok Kim, but he’s just as important to what makes The Yellow Sea so great. Not only is his character bleak to begin with, but he’s also a troubled soul looking for a way out of his harsh position. Once again, the chemistry between him and Yun-seok Kim’s contrasting personalities work, just as it did with The Chaser. Because of Jung-woo’s shaved head, he looks like a completely different person than he did in The Chaser. It wasn’t until 80 minutes into The Yellow Sea, that I realized he was the same actor.
My only complaint I have about The Yellow Sea is there are a few minor things, within its simple plot, that went over my head. These confusing elements were responsible for making the film’s duration a whopping 140 minutes (even The Godfather was only 35 minutes longer!). In a perfect world, I think some of it could have been simplified or cut out completely; hence, having a shorter, tighter film.
Even so, The Yellow Sea is still a must see. What really breaks my heart is I have to wait another few years for Na Hong-jin’s next film. What a drag.
Jeff Bona‘s Rating: 9/10