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The story of a cab driver in Yanji City, a region between North Korea, China and Russia. His wife goes to Korea to earn money, but he doesn't hear from her since in 6 months. He plays mah-jong to make some extra cash, but this only makes his life worse; but then he meets a hitman who proposes to turn his life around by repaying his debt and reuniting with his wife, just for one hit. Written by
Gu-Nam, hired to do a hit by Myun-Ga, soon is caught in a gang war between Myun-Ga and a South Korean gang
I watched the 140-minute version of "The Yellow Sea".
The acting is top-notch. The actors have a definite screen presence and give seamless performances. The recreations, set designs, production designs, and film editing are all top-notch. There are several chase scenes and fight scenes that are also very well staged, even if photographed at times with intentional shakiness.
The first half of the story was easy to follow, engaging and suspenseful. A Korean taxi driver (Gu-Nam) who is desperate because of his debts is induced to travel from a region in China to Seoul in order to kill someone ("The Professor") for a gang boss (Myun-Ga). We are with him all the way during his harrowing trip by sea and as he encounters the difficulties of identifying and killing his target. Before he can kill the man, the man's chauffeur does him in, having been hired by another gang boss. They had a conflict over a woman. Meanwhile the taxi-driver is hunting for his wife in Seoul, as she had gone there some years earlier to make some money to send back to him.
The second half of the story is harder to follow and more complicated. Myun-Ga doesn't pay Gu-Nam and he travels with his gang to Seoul where he horns in on the local gang boss. They end up chasing Gu-Nam, as are the police. The exact reasons for their rivalries and enmities elude me, but I think the main motivation for Myun-Ga's traveling to Seoul is that the entire hit seems to have gone wrong. His hired killer didn't do the hit and someone else did. Hence, gang pecking order comes into play. This has to be straightened out. Subsequently, the Seoul gang leader orders a hit on Myun-Ga, and that creates a big gang war, fought with knives mainly but also axes and clubs.
The police have attempted to catch Gu-Nam but they are bad at their job, smashing up their cars, shooting one another, being outrun, and allowing him to escape. The character of the picture in the second half becomes more of an action thriller than a neonoir crime story.
There are three main women in the story. One is Gu-Nam's wife. She had taken up with a Japanese fish-monger. Another is seen at critical moments at the murdered man's (Professor's) apartment and a bank. She is his wife. The third woman is the mistress of both the Professor and the Seoul gang boss.
The focus on knives made me wonder if this is something cultural or a fad. The Korean movie "Friend" also involved a lot of material on knives and fighting with knives.
Yon-seok Kim played Myun-Ga as a very self-possessed man who is cool under pressure. He also makes wisecracks and is impatient with others. Without his acting and this character, the movie would have gone flat. His fights are something to behold. In a way, he has some of that coolness of Bruce Lee.
Jung-woo Ha played Gu-Nam as a cunning, wiry, fast-thinking and athletic man. He may not have had luck gambling, but he had luck in his escapes. He has a lot of pluck in difficult circumstances, so it's easy to identify with him.
There's a lot of grimy scenes and a lot of blood in this movie, but this is not unique to it. Quite a few modern movies of this type have it. I don't find the blood bothersome. On the other hand, I don't think it adds much either.
There came a point where I thought that the car-foot chase was overdone and disturbed the character of the movie. There was an escape scene that did the same. There also came a point where I noticed all the jiggling of the camera, which, as in the Bourne movie, made it hard to follow the action. Directors will probably bury this gimmick soon.
I felt after awhile that the thematic material was being lost or obscured by the excesses in the action. This is the main reason for not rating the film more highly. It lacks the focus of theme and coherence of style that mark a work of higher quality. Mind you, the picture is very good and the director is very capable and capable of better work. Let's hope that he realizes his potential in the very challenging art of making movies.
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