Director Na Hong-jin returns with a new Korean crime film The Yellow Sea. In recent years Korea has produced some of the best, darkest and most disturbing crime films out, with such classic titles as A Bittersweet Life, Pan Chan-Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy (including the seminal Oldboy) and Hong-jin’s own The Chaser. The Chaser was a terrifically entertaining, off beat tale of a pimp (Kim Yoon-seuk) who turns detective after some of his girls are abducted by a serial killer. As it was gritty, violent, oddly moral and featured some of the best chases recently shot in film, it’s exciting to see Hong-jin reunite with Yoon-seuk for another crime thriller for The Yellow Sea, which was screened at the 2011 Cannes film festivial.
The Yellow Sea deals with Ha Jung-woo’s Korean cabbie who’s growing gambling debts drives his wife to China in search of work. Soon after his wife disappears, the increasingly desperate man is approached by a shady businessman (Kim Yoon-seuk) who offers him an exit route from his troubles. If he will sail an old fishing boat over to South Korea and kill someone for him, the mobster will pay off all his debts. Needless to say things do not go as planned and he is forced to run for his life after being caught up in a vicious gang war, whilst also trying to find his missing wife.
With this film Hong-jin set out to create something that works like a blend of Michael Mann and Pan Chan-Wook, and at nearly three hours the film is as bloody as it is epic. But fear not, he hasn’t abandoned the breathtaking chase sequences that made his name and here, like in The Chaser these scenes are an integral part of the film and not merely just a reason for a set piece. Hong-jin has a real talent for finding the soul in the darkest of places, whether it’s in a failed cop turned pimp or a fallen gambler.
Crime film fans weren’t the only people impressed by Hong-jin’s raw, frantic debut film The Chaser because soon after it debuted Hollywood came calling, in a fairly big way. The American remake rights to the film were quickly snapped up by Warner Brother’s for $1 million, who saw it as a potential follow up to their recent Scorsese hit The Departed (itself a American remake of a Korean film.) As a result they then attached the film’s Academy Award winning writer William Monaghan to write the adaptation, and Leonardo Dicaprio was headlined to star. As of this year the film still resides in development, although in a recent interview Monaghan has revealed he finished the script before he moved on to work on Frank Miller’s Sin City 2, and is now one of the film’s producers.
On it’s release here this week, if The Yellow Sea is as successful as it’s predecessor, it’s easy to see Hollywood won’t be too long in chasing after the remake rights too. So it might not a bad idea to see the originals before they’re chopped up and toned down in the hunt for a wider audience. Based on previous efforts The Yellow Sea will be a place well worth visiting in the search for a exciting humanistic crime thriller.