A woman named Yeon-hee (Ha Ji-won) lives in Busan with her boyfriend Man-sik (Sol Kyung-gu) near Haeundae Beach. But, when they find out a tsunami will hit the city, They realize they only have 10 minutes to escape!
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a Korean disaster-movie response to real chaos. here we go...
Koreans, apparently, have never made a big disaster movie until now. It's taken this long, until 2009, so many years after fellows in other Asian countries (like Japan or, well, Japan) have done the disaster-movie thing over and over, usually with monsters. Why is this? Perhaps Korea didn't have the budget for it - apparently, at a mere 11 million US, this is the biggest budgeted movie in Korean history, and it looks like a giant Titanic-movie as one might expect - or the intent with the subject matter. I don't know why Je-gun Yun decided now was the time, or this was the subject, but it probably has something to do with an actual giant damn tsunami taking apart coastlines all across the south-east Asian seaboard and killing hundreds of thousands and displacing so many more. It's one of those monumental disasters-of-the-decade that in its own circles (i.e. countries) is as horrible as Katrina.
So, perhaps, this is the first step towards healing: a big blockbuster that doesn't really elevate the form from previous American big-budget summer disaster-movie blockbusters, but doesn't suck like a box of Michael Bay d***s either. The film, named after a shore-line city, follows a group of characters in a series of semi (or not at all) connected plots, including one with a man who previously caused the accidental death of another while they worked on a boat during tsunami 2004 and has to reconcile with his alcoholism and a possible new love, another with a new coast-guard worker and his (unintentional) love interest, and a guy working at the weather-control center who has a very estranged relationship with his ex and his daughter who doesn't even know he's her father (since, you know, he works non-stop at a weather center tracking earthquakes and the like).
For the first hour, or maybe more, there are some big laughs and some entertainment to be had, if only on that shallow-surface level one might be familiar with in an Independence Day kind of fold-out (or for the older folks Towering Inferno). With the exception of the young coast-guard guy and the twerpy girl who is or isn't trying to court him depending on her mood, which just sucks, the plots are at least sort of engaging on a fun-dumb movie level. And even with the shots of visual effects that look terrible (and some of it is SyFy level quality), when the actual tsunami hits the city it is quite a sight and thing to experience, especially with a full audience. The problem that Yun comes with though is both the script, its uneven plot threads and hit-or-miss humor (some of it is very funny, intentionally so, including a giant explosion scene on a bridge during the tsunami climax), and in corralling some of the acting.
From what I hear, some Korean movies do swing and sway quite wildly between moods from scene to scene, and it isn't usually consistent even in the best films (exceptions I think might be Bong Joon-Ho and Chanwook Park's films). But here in Haeundae it breaks down like this: two-thirds of this is a decent crowd-pleaser, what my wife called a "mixed salad" kind of entertainment. And then in the last twenty-five minutes it turns into more or less a total weepy, so much so that you'll either fall for it completely Titanic style (and lo and behold many in the audience I saw the film with, mostly Korean-Americans or Koreans in town in NYC, were in tears), or you'll be scratching your head or simply cringing at the hysterics on display. It's never too terribly directed, but after so much of it... you wonder when it will end. It's a good start for a possible future genre Korea can take some more cracks at. It's just not something you need to rush to see. Unless you're a die-hard Roland Emmerich/Korea fan. And yes, fan of Korea, not even Korean movies.
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