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Review: The Yellow Sea

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I’m a fan of both Korean cinema and film noir, but I hadn’t seen the Yellow Sea, a Korean noir from 2010. This extended trip has given me a chance to catch up on a few things, and one of the first was to see the Yellow Sea, all 140 minutes of it.

That sounds like a long running time, but it went incredibly quickly. The Yellow Sea is engrossing, tense, and intense. I honestly can’t properly do justice to my immersion in this film. I was totally its slave for its running time.

A great movie, but not necessarily one I’ll be watching again. There are a few reasons for that. Like Hotel Rwanda, this is a great movie that demands a large emotional toll. I wasn’t exhausted from my viewing like I was after Hotel Rwanda, but this was a brutal movie – in the sense that it offered a very grim and very gritty view of the world.

Also, the lack of readily available firearms in Korea means that the action took place with knives and axes. This creates a much more vicious film than one with guns. People were stabbed multiple times and heads were crushed after being split. The violence was so personal and so visibly costly to both the victim and the perpetrator that I began to be seriously anxious when it looked like more blood would be spilled.

That sets it apart from other great Korean films like Man from Nowhere, and especially from something action-packed but light like the Good, the Bad, and the Weird. The violence here is much closer to that of a Bittersweet Life, but even more brutal, if that can be achieved.

The Yellow Sea is the perfect noir in that it takes a morally questionable individual and keeps upping the ante, the stakes getting higher, the opposition getting stronger, and the whole time he and you are trying to figure out just who is doing what to whom and why. The movie does answer these questions, but it stays true to its sensibilities and the denouement is just as grim and brutal as the climax.

The ending, thankfully, offers some small source of optimism.

In the end, I have to give this 5 bloody kitchen knives out of 5. I don’t know if I want to watch it again, but in the days since seeing it, there hasn’t been one in which I haven’t considered the movie and its story.

You can learn more about the Yellow Sea here.