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The second feature of Na Hong-jin after “The Chaser” is again a very physical experience. Ku-Nam, the hero of the film, lives in one of the more decrepit  corners of the world, the Yanbian prefecture encircled by North-Korea, China and Russia. A place that breeds crime, and desperate inhabitants willing to take any chance to get away, or at least make some money to improve the misery of living in this parallel universe.

This setting is actually what I found most interesting: it moves the film away from the glitzy Seoul background of “The Chaser”, it creates an interesting mix of languages, characters, their own respective reservations or mutual hatred and micro-racism. There are major players governing the movements of goods and people in this world, ruling it almost like the Duke of New York did in his parallel world of yonder.

And these characters are all very much alive. This was what struck me: the slick Korean gangster is as much an elaborated character of the script as the human trafficker sporting his run-down fur coat and a rusty axe. Caught between those is Ku-Nam, who needs to execute a simple task to free himself from the cruel grip of Myung-Ga, realises rather late that other interests are at play, and starts a very long run from the (not very talented and surprisingly little armed) police forces and the (more talented and more armed) underworld men.

My only critique on this film is the initial scene where Ku-Nam needs to flee his supposed crime scene, and literally runs from hundreds of police men in dozens of cars who just seem unable to bring him down. This scene could have been fun, but is mostly played as a money-burning car-crashing set piece with an straight face. As I find nothing as mundane and boring as car chases and police cars merrily crashing into each other, that took me out of the plot a bit. But I was rewarded with a strange passage where he escapes in a mixture of First Blood and Atanarjuat, again with very physical efforts to cross distances, with pain and effort, until he finally is able to set up his counter strike.

During this last act, Myung-Ga, the crook who set him off on his mission originally, almost takes over the movie, played by Kim Yun-Seok with tongue-in-cheek and unflinching, uncompromising violence – while always seeming kind of a nice guy. And yes, at some point, there is somebody standing in a room, drenched in blood, dripping, sharp weapon in hand (well, mutton leg bone, originally…). It IS a Korean thriller, after all!

And we have learned from a sample of 2 by director Na Hong-Jin: he is not a proponent of, say, traditional happy endings…

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_yellow_sea/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Yellow_Sea_%282010_film%29

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