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The Strange Things Boutique




Blu-ray / DVD . Eureka / Bounty Films.

The Yellow SeaLiving in the middle of what is effectively a lawless no-man’s land between China, Korea and Russia – the Yanbian Autonomous Prefecture – Gu-nam ((Jung-Woo Ha) is a man with problems. His gambling addiction has landed him with debts he cannot possibly pay off, and his only solution to this situation is more gambling in the hope of a big win – an unlikely event as he’s simply not very good at it. Meanwhile, his wife has moved to Seoul to work, but isn’t sending money home, and everyone around him tells him that she’s either taken a lover or become a prostitute – or both. With his life spiralling out of control and leading to a burst of frustrated violence, he’s brought to the attention of Myun (Kim Yun-seok) – the very definition of a shady character. Myun has his fingers in assorted criminal pies and offers to help Gu-nam pay off his debts and maybe find his wife and take whatever revenge he desires, if he’ll do one simple thing – kill a man in Korea.

Before long, Gu-nam is on a journey (literally and figuratively) to a new life, smuggled into Korea and spending the time that he ought to be carrying out his assassination looking for his missing wife. When he does finally get ready to carry out his contract, he finds that someone has beaten him to it – stumbling into the middle of a bloody, violent murder (note – criminals in this film seem to have taken a vow against using guns, preferring the intimacy of the knife), he is soon being hunted by the hit men, their boss, the police and Myun, who unsurprisingly turns out to be less than trustworthy.

The Yellow SeaTwisting and turning like an excitable eel, The Yellow Sea is an epic, frantic, often very confusing mix of ultra-violence, spectacular action set-pieces and the melodramatic despair that only Asian filmmakers seem able to pull off. The result is a film that is rarely less than compelling, but which has so many unexplained / unresolved plot turns that it can be as frustrating as it is fascinating. I found myself wanting the characters to have more development, more openly explained motive – which is probably missing the point, but the frantic nature of the film might have benefited from the complex series of relationships that emerge between the various villains of the piece – everyone from the big boss through his henchmen to hired goons – bring fleshed out more. It’s sometimes difficult to keep track of just who is who, especially in the more frenetic moments of violence.

And there’s a lot of violence – brutal, gore-soaked stabbings, axe attacks and vicious brutality that is quite breathtaking, and very drawn out. No one seems to die very quickly in this film, and rarely has the savagery and drawn-out nature of being stabbed to death been shown so vividly or so painfully – no one could accuse this film of glamourising violence. The more spectacular moments – multi-car pile-ups and the like – pale into insignificance in comparison.

Yet at the heart of the film, Jung-woo Ha is a calm, most silent figure, allowing the unfolding tragedy of his life and the knowledge that he will not escape this alive to play out in his facial expressions as much as anything. He potently portrays a man who, if not exactly an innocent, is most certainly a victim, of circumstance and his own frailties. It’s a remarkable performance in a film that is full of excellent actors playing multi-faceted characters.

The Yellow Sea is not easy viewing – at 140 minutes, it can be heavy going. But as a study of humanity and inhumanity, desperation and deception, it’s a rewarding experience if you can take it. Either way, you won’t forget it in a hurry.





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