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Mathew St. Patrick,
Something awaits 2,500 meters under the deep sea off the southern tip of Jeju Island...Directed by Kim Ji-hoon and produced by JK Youn, the sci-fi action thriller Sector 7 revolves around an oil rig crew forced to battle a deadly creature at sea. Written by
Generic creature feature that still packs enough thrills for an unfussy audience- just don't expect another genre classic like 'The Host'
Bong Joon-ho's critical and commercial success 'The Host' set a gold standard for creature features in South Korea, but it isn't simply because of this genre predecessor that 'Sector 7' rode on a tidal wave of expectations prior to its release. Nonetheless, that wave crashed before it even reached shore- overwhelmingly negative critical reception and soon after audience reception all but ensured that 'Sector 7' never became the monster box-office hit it was supposed to be back in its home territory.
It's unfortunate that the bar was already set unrealistically high for the movie even before it opened. Indeed, director Kim Ji-hoon's followup to his well-received 2007 historical epic 'May 18' is really just a well-made B-monster movie, without the kind of smart scriptwriting needed for it to meet critic and audience expectations. Sure it doesn't have what it takes to be outstanding, but those looking for some good old straightforward thrills will find that 'Sector 7' delivers those just fine.
In case you're wondering, the title of the movie refers to a continental shelf off Jeju Islands that was thought to hold massive oil and natural gas reserves. Its sovereignty was the focus of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Japan in the 1970s, with both nations eager to exploit it for its resources. The history behind the stretch of ocean may add a dose of reality for those who have lived long enough through the tenacious two-party negotiations, but any hopes that this may make for some intelligent social commentary in the movie- especially considering the energy crisis facing the world today- should quickly be set aside.
Instead, screenwriters Kim Hwi and JK Youn opt for a standard bare-bones character setup before unleashing the monster. The most developed character among the lot is Hae-jun (Ha Ji-won), a headstrong female engineer atop an offshore oil rig at loggerheads with her captain who believes their expedition is a fruitless one. Next to Hae-jun is that of her mentor Master (Ahn Sung-ki), who arrives on the rig after the order to vacate and convinces the captain it might be worthwhile to persevere. Other than Hae-jun and Master, the others are no more than prey - including Hae-jun's boyfriend Dong-su (Oh Ji-ho), best buddies Sang-gu and Jong-yun (Park Chul-min and Song Sae-byeok) and socially awkward Chi-sun.
It takes about half an hour before things start to go awry, and by that point, besides confirming the audience's suspicion that Master isn't as worthy as he seems to be, Ji-hoon is content to let the action take centre-stage. So one by one, these characters will find themselves hunted by the monster and eventually meet their demise, until of course just Dong-su, Master and Hae-joon are left standing. Ji-hoon reserves the film's single longest climactic sequence for them, substituting the narrow passageways beneath the rig where most of the earlier action takes place for the wide open expanse on the platform. Logic and reason are not required from the start of the unrelenting action up till the end- all Ji-hoon demands of his audience is to sit back and let the adrenaline kick in.
At least in this regard, Ji-hoon delivers where it counts, aided by no less than his lead actress Ji-won, who has been dubbed Korea's Angelina Jolie after performing all her own stunts in this film. Seeing Ji-won in the thick of the action, especially when she gets on a motorbike and zips along the platform with the beast fast behind her, is thrilling to say the least- though that very standout sequence is somewhat marred by some not-so-good CGI betraying the green screen against which it was shot. Nonetheless, she is more than convincing as a female action hero, and one only hopes that the writers had spent more time with her character to make it equally memorable.
Certainly, if even Hae-joon comes off one-dimensional, you can be sure that the monster will only fare worse. The purpose behind the monster's pursuit of its prey is never clearly defined, since it neither seems to devour them or bring them back to its nest where its embryos lay cocooned in some gooey mess. The latter's reference is also pointless, since the film makes no attempt to weave it into the story after only a brief scene. And even if it isn't meant to make much sense, the leap of logic the film demands from its audience when the monster is explained to be from the chemo-synthetic (read: deep-sea) ecosystem but spends so much of its time out of the water is just too glaring to ignore.
It doesn't help too that Ji-hoon reveals the monster in its entirety too early into the film, abandoning any attempt at building audience anticipation all too quickly. The decision to rely on a homegrown effects studio (as opposed to a foreign one like 'The Host' did) might be worth touting for their local audience, but you're likely to come off thinking that the CG work is nothing remarkable. The same can also be said of the 3D in the movie, which lends depth to certain scenes, but arguably not in the action-heavy ones that matter,
You'll understand why then the disappointment that 'Sector 7' was met with when it was released back in its home territory, since it lacks the smart scriptwriting and sharp direction needed for it to become another classic like 'The Host'. Instead, it is a perfectly generic creature feature, offering nothing more than B-grade movie thrills that would probably still satisfy an undemanding audience. But since it probably doesn't have to live up to such lofty expectations here, 'Sector 7' will do just fine as a no-frills action adventure- forgettable ultimately but thrilling and entertaining enough while it lasts.
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