The Yellow Sea (Monster) is one of the stabbiest films you will ever see. It’s a veritable tsunami of chop suey as characters slice and dice with kitchen knives and hatchets, hell even half eaten animal carcasses. Thumbs are sawn off, limbs hacked, arms and legs end up in bags, bodies burn and the celluloid is coated crimson from all the wounds they carry. Goddard once said all you need for a movie is a gun and a girl, yet in the Yellow Sea, the girl is a memory and there’s barely a gun in sight. You feel each body blow, each incision in this man on the run thriller, both physically and metaphorically. Anyone know what Goddard had to say about knives?
South Korean writer-director Na Hong-Jin has previously given us the chilling psychological thriller The Chaser (Eastern Eye), and whilst The Yellow Sea is a frenetic explosion of tension and violence, with frequent knife fights and amazing car chases, it’s not all about visceral thrills. This is intelligent action, grim and brutal, playing upon the desperation of poverty, of ethnic minorities and illegal immigration. Amidst a backdrop of an organized crime war and characters searching for vengeance, there’s an unlikely strain of weary melancholy running through The Yellow Sea, which really elevates the film, managing to subdue it’s more over the top inclinations via not only its gritty nature, but also its willingness to really develop the characters. Hong-Jin expertly weaves this disparate hodge podge of genres together into an incredibly slick, tense and violent thriller.
Staying in South Korea, you can have your ultra sexy heroine who can mix it with the roughest of the boys, alternatively saving the day during an accident on their offshore drilling rig and then later pulling killer monos as she races her more effeminate boyfriend around the rig on trail bikes. You can even call her hardass and give her unresolved father issues that have sent her out into the Korean Strait to relentlessly drill for oil (nudge nudge wink wink). In fact you’d be willing to give the filmmakers of the monster flick Sector 7 (Eastern Eye) as much latitude as they need, allowing them to drown you in a deluge of clichés, provided they deliver in the monster stakes. Which they almost do, offering up a fearsome looking creature that exists somewhere between Predator, Alien and a diseased worm. Actually that may be part of the problem, the monster looks so good that the filmmakers use every opportunity they have to show it off. Whilst they’ve got the evil scientist, idiots destined to be monster chow, a creature disturbed by human greed and our good honest tough as nails heroine, the one cliché these filmmakers didn’t decide to employ is subtlety when the monster first reveals itself.
And why is it that monsters are always so single mindedly murderous? Once roused all they want to do is slaughter humans. Where’s their pathos? Their back-story? Their relationship turmoil? But alas this monster is strictly one dimensional, aside from the final scene, where it seems to understand not just bullshit macho honour, but also human facial cues.