Seen in Jeonju

Haeundae (2009)

10th December 2009

haeundaeoriginally posted July 29, 2009–Haeundae Beach, sometimes called the Waikiki of Korea. It is a long, beautiful beach of fine sand and turquoise water. It is also walled in by hotels and apartments, but these are quite nice looking in and of themselves and although they subtract from the natural beauty of the area, they add an air of luxury and excitement.  Going to Haeundae three out of four seasons each year will result in a relaxing afternoon of walks on the beach and maybe some delicious raw fish in the evening. However, going there at the height of summer offers a completely different experience. The beach becomes packed with tourists. It won’t be long before the local news starts giving ‘counts’ of how many people were estimated to be at Haeundae. It will start at about 800,000 and work its way up to over a million sunbathers and swimmers  literally covering the sand with a sea of people. The nightlife is filled with fireworks, concerts, food and drink.

This crowded and exciting locale is the scene of the first film in Korea to feature a natural disaster.  In this case, we have a tsunami that is fast approaching the south coast of Korea–and not just any tsunami–this is a mega-tsunami that towers more than 100 meters in height. The people frolicking on the beach are unaware of their impending doom until an earthquake rocks the shore. From then they have only ten minutes to get to safety as a mountain of water rushes forward to engulf them.

Only ten minutes..  The wave will come, the water will recede and there is the possibility of another bigger wave.  That does not seem like enough time to cover an entire movie. So the first hour of the film is taken up with introducing the characters we will soon be watching fighting for their lives.  Three couples stand out among the cast of thousands, Man-shik/Yeon-hee, Kim Hwi/ Lee Yoo-jin, and Hyeong-shik/Hee-mi.  Man-shik (Seol Kyeong-gu) has been friends with Yeon-hee (Ha Ji-won) since childhood. Since his wife left him, Yeon-hee has been taking care of Man-shik who cannot seem to control how much he has to drink. His drunkness however is not due to being deserted by his spouse. It is because he survived the Indonesian Tsunami that claimed the life of Yeon-hee’s father.  Kim Hwi (Park Joong-hoon) is an oceanographer who watches for undersea earthquakes and predicts the possibility of tidal waves. He has recently been reintroduced to his career-driven ex-lover Lee Yoo-jin (Uhm Jeong-hwa) and her young daughter. Finally, their is the comic, budding love between lifeguard Hyeong-shik (Lee Min-gi) and a tough tourist from Seoul Hee-mi (Kang Ye-won).

The film takes its time to flesh out these characters and several others whom I didn’t mention so that when the wave strikes we actually care about the people involved and to add a personal touch to tragedy which will cost thousands of lives.  And it does an excellent job doing just that.  If you are going into the movie expecting non-stop action, you might be disappointed because the story starts off with just the day-to-day dramas that we all experience. However, when the action starts, it is amazing to behold. The computer graphics are well done in this movie and the acting is excellent. Seol Kyeong-gu and Ha Ji-won are excellent actors who know how to deliver a story and Park Joong-hoon has the experience to pull off anything–so I was not surprised that their rolls were good. I was surprised at the excellent work by Uhm Jeong-hwa and Lee Min-gi in this film.  Their acting in this movie surpasses anything that they have done before–and both of them had me crying at one or two points in the course of the film.  (Because of his work here, I am actually looking forward to seeing A Million which will open soon and also stars Lee Min-gi)* updated–A Million was not worth the wait*

If the film is so good but not perfect. Why?  Well, one of the reasons for that as the cast was introduced, I was able to predict who would live and who would die with an amazing degree of accuracy. Many of them commit ‘Hollywood-cinema-sins’…Person A is greedy, he must be punished. Person B is a bad mother, she must be punished, Person C will supply a noble death, Person D will die saving a child…  These are standard cliches that dominated the sub-genre of ‘Natural Disasters/Nature-Gone-Wild’ films which were especially popular during the 1970s (Like Towering Inferno, Avalanche–and earlier classics like The Birds).  And another, minor, problem I had was about the second wave.  I had to wonder—’How did anyone survive?’ It was huge! 

 I give this film 3 and a half out of 5 stars. This is how to make a big-budget film correctly.

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