Bullet Points: The Yellow Sea
The Yellow Sea used to be streaming on Netflix but I’m sorry to say that it is no longer on there. It’s unfortunate but it’s not impossible to find for anyone who gets inspired to watch it and I hope that you do. It is now one of my favorite foreign flicks of all time and while I wasn’t exactly in the best mood following the film (more on this later); it was an outstanding movie that was recommended to be via twitter by director Gareth Evans. Yes the same Gareth Evans that directed The Raid: Redemption and its sequel The Raid 2: Berandal. I can’t recommend this movie enough. If you have the stomach and the fortitude to stick with it, this movie will punch you right in the feelings.
The Gist: Gu-nam is a taxi driver in Yanji City, which is a region between North Korea, China, and Russia. It’s a region with little to offer a young couple so Gu-nam takes on a substantial debt in order to send his wife to South Korea to work. After several months of not hearing from her, his debts continued to mount and collectors continue to torment Gu-nam so he agrees to be smuggled into South Korea to kill a man in order to have his debts erased. It is a decision that leads Gu-nam into a deadly struggle to escape from not only the gangsters he thought he was working for, but also the police and a rich business executive with motives of his own.
The Cast: Jung-woo Ha plays our main character and he plays it brilliantly. I had recently seen Ha in a movie called The Chaser and he blew me away with his screen presence. He plays a very empathetic character on screen and just when you feel like you’re not agreeing with him he has a way of causing the tables to turn. Many of the characters in The Yellow Sea operate in that gray area that we typically don’t see in our everyday lives. They do anything and everything to get ahead and while most of them live a pretty sad life, they covet money, power, and rarely act in a way that we would see as “normal”.
He looks like a boy looking for his lost puppy.
The Villain: As I said above, most of the characters could fall into this category. Whether they are hiring someone to murder another person, attempting to murder another person, or just getting into a knockdown drag-out hatchet fight, these guys clearly don’t f*ck around! Speaking of hatchet fights; there is no other country in the world that does hand-to-hand bladed weapons fights like the Koreans. If you’ve ever seen Oldboy then you will know what I’m talking about. This movie, which ran around 2 hours and 20 minutes could have easily been twenty minutes shorter but that might have led to a decrease in brutality and I don’t think that was ever an option for writer/director Hong-jin Na.
Not every character in The Yellow Sea is bad…just most of them.
The Action: There are so many chase scenes in this movie that I lost count. Many of them are foot chases but there are also a couple of car chases thrown in for the Fast and the Furious lovers to enjoy. Gu-nam finds himself being chased all over the Korean peninsula by pretty much everybody there. The more dire his situation gets the more desperate he acts and there were a couple of times that I didn’t think he was gonna make it. It’s hard to describe in words how brutal a few of the fight scenes get but let’s just say that there are buckets of blood spilled and somewhere a company that makes prop hatchets made a shit-ton of money off of this movie. I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, if only these guys had some guns this would be a lot easier.” Yes…a gun would have solved many of the problems faced by Gu-nam. This movie is split up into four different parts similar to how something like Pulp Fiction was done but all of these parts involve the same characters. It sounds strange but it works well to break up the craziness that goes on and to follow the arc of the main characters.
Myun-ga hates to be woke up from a deep sleep.
Take it Home:
- Narration: The opening scene is a narration by Gu-nam about the spread of rabies throughout his village when he was a kid. It might not make sense at first but is pretty cool once the movie finally ends.
- Post credits scene: Make sure you stay through the credits for this one.
- I need a hug: This movie was an absolute emotional rollercoaster. When I was finished with it I definitely felt like I needed a hug.
- Damn: The gangster who hires Gu-nam to kill the guy is named Myun-ga…he is a badass.
- I hate traffic: I complain about traffic on a daily basis but human trafficking is far worse. When Gu-nam is being smuggled into South Korea, it is about as terrible as you could ever imagine.