Sitges 2011: THE YELLOW SEA Review

Korean director Na Hong-jin returns to Sitges to present his latest film, The Yellow Sea. It's been a while since his previous directorial effort The Chaser, which gathered quite an international success. And with such credentials, the expectations for his new action thriller were quite high.

The film revolves around Gu-nam, a Korean man who lives in China near the border between the two Koreas and Russia. Life isn't easy for the people living there, and most of them make a living from illegal activities in order to survive. Gu-nam works as a taxi driver as he waits for news from his wife, who crossed to South Korea searching for a better life with the help of an underworld network. Crushed by his debts, Gu-nam decides to accept an offer in exchange for cleaning all his financial problems: he'll receive free passage to South Korea to kill a prominent businessman. What seems to be an easy job quickly escalates to an awful (and bloody) mess when a group of Korean mafia gets involved, forcing Gu-nam to run for his life while trying to get in touch with his missing wife.

With a total runtime of 156 minutes The Yellow Sea is a long film. Featuring an episodic structure, we follow the main character as he turns from ordinary taxi driver to amateur hitman to fugitive. The problem is sometimes things take a while to start moving and the film could benefit from some cuts to help smooth its pace. But once things get started it's easy to recognize the elements that made The Chaser such an interesting film. The action is shot with a wonderful sense of energy with good camera and editing work that places you right into the action. And as with the previous Hong-jin film, chase scenes become central pieces of the movie. As we've come to expect from this kind of Korean production The Yellow Sea is outstanding from a technical standpoint, with scenes like a car chase setpiece with multiple cars involved which is specially remarkable.

The problem with the film, as already stated is its excessive runtime. As the film comes closer to its ending and the multiple characters and storylines get together it's quite difficult to remember and understand every character's motivations, and a couple of twists in the end don't make it easier. Once the film is finished, however, and you get the whole picture everything fits into place pretty well.

All in all, despite its flaws, The Yellow Sea emerges as an interesting action thriller, with some scenes that will keep you firmly grasped to your seat that keep proving that Na Hong-jin has a deserved place among today's most interesting Korean filmmakers.

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