The Yellow Sea - Blu-ray Review

'At the start of the film, Gu-nam is clearly presented as 'The Cab Driver'. By the end he is something else.'

Initially masquerading as a rather bog standard Thriller - sporting something along the lines of a 'one last job' narrative - Hong-jin's Na film eventually shows its true colours as a member of South Korea's club of extremely violent revenge flicks. The first third may build slowly, as fish-out-of-water Gu-nam (Jung-woo Ha) sets out on a road to clear his debt, but the final two thirds are increasingly brutal and violent, as The Yellow Sea morphs into an Oldboy-alike violent opera.

The episodic nature of Na's film helps it to separate out its segmented structure of grit-flecked drama and clinical stylised violence. At the start of the film, Gu-nam is clearly presented as 'The Cab Driver'. By the end he is something else. Along the way, the journey clearly has its impact on an already troubled life, as the struggling protagonist negotiates gangsters, assassinations and a plentiful supply of very sharp axes. The Yellow Sea's structure drags us along with him, from near-innocence to participation in rather vicious bouts of ultra-violence.

There is though, crucially, some substance here too which prevents The Yellow Sea from being merely another brief film of blood-letting. Na takes great pains to examine the lives of an immigrant, represented here by the Joseonjok people of South Korea, to which Gu-nam belongs. Alternatively he is used, abused and subsequently dropped by a variety of people, as he works towards establishing a foothold for himself. He is always an outcast, almost always on his own, or experiencing loneliness, separated from his family, never with an ally. It is a powerful, almost literal, rendering of how being a cultural 'outsider' can impact a life.

The direction too from Na is occasionally stunning, though some poor effects, notably during the car chase sequences, do let him down. An early boat journey, which takes Gu-nam from Yanji in China to South Korea, clearly lasts a long time. In Na's world it is over in two minutes, perhaps less, a burst of short scenes that nevertheless leave you with a vivid picture of death, poverty and abject grime.

Those feelings continue to permeate the film throughout, as we morph into the violent conclusions it probably always suggested were inevitable.


  1. I really liked this movie and happy to see more people are discovering it. I'm with you on some poor effects, but it didn't take too much away from my enjoyment.

    1. No, you're right, they took me out of the moment but they're not what you remember. And yes, it seems to have cropped up progressively over the last year.