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The Yellow Sea

Dir: Na Hong-jin. South Korea-US. 2010. 156mins

Rising directorial star Na Hong-jin presents a grim tale of a hit job gone wrong in his ambitious but exhausting sophomore feature The Yellow Sea (Hwang-hae). Good acting and some well executed set pieces keep viewers engaged throughout its 156-minute running time. Still, the film lacks the suspense and focus of Na’s acclaimed debut The Chaser.

On a technical level the film shines, as in one astonishing car pileup sequence involving a tractor trailer.

With an admissions count of 1.8 million ($12.4 million) in 12 days, the film has undershot expectations in its native South Korea. Nonetheless, sales rep Showbox should have no trouble unloading the hard-hitting work to specialty genre distributors in Europe. 20th Century Fox, which became the first Hollywood studio to invest directly in a Korean feature, will release it in North America.

Crushed by gambling debts, Gu-nam (Ha Jung-woo), an ethnic Korean living in Yanbian, China, loses his job. When a powerful hitman named Myun-ga (Kim Yoon-suk) approaches him, he reluctantly agrees to cross the Yellow Sea and kill a businessman living in Seoul, in return for repayment of his debt. At the same time, he hopes to be reunited with his wife, who has not contacted him since leaving for Korea in search of work six months earlier.

The film reunites the two talented leads from The Chaser, only this time it’s Ha who gets the audience’s sympathies as we follow closely his hapless efforts to execute the job and get back to China.

On a technical level the film shines, as in one astonishing car pileup sequence involving a tractor trailer. Still, the sprawling plot and endless confrontation of the film’s needlessly long second half suggest a work that, somewhere in the production process, spun out of control. A couple final twists, delivered in the work’s closing moments, will leave most viewers confused rather than exhilarated.

Production companies: Popcorn Film

International sales: Showbox, www.showbox.co.kr/english

Producers: Han Seong-gu, Jeong Dae-hun, Kim Gyeong-hwan, Kim Ui-seok

Executive producers: Choi Seong-sik

Screenplay: Na Hong-jin

Cinematography: LeeSeong-jae

Production designer: Lee Hu-gyeong

Editor: Kim Seon-min

Music: Jang Yeong-gyu, Lee Byeong-hun, Bokseunga

Main cast:  Ha Jung-woo, Kim Yoon-suk, Jo Seong-ha, Lee Cheol-min, Im Ye-won, Kim Ji-hyun, Jeong Min-seong, Kwak Byeong-gu, Tak Seong-eun, Jeong Man-shik

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