Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Shim Sung-bo's Haemu will be in competition
"The characters feel shallow in comparison to the impressive action sequences."

The harsh realities of life against the backdrop of the International Monetary Fund crisis in South Korea and the brutality of human trafficking crash up against less interesting genre elements and a spiralling body count in Shim Sung-bo's directorial debut. Kim Min-jung's play - which was based on a real-life shipping incident - is given a strong cinematic sweep, although the characters feel shallow in comparison to the impressive action sequences.

Early scenes give a strong sense of place, as Sung-bo - who collaborated on the script with Snowpiercer's Bong Joon-ho (they previously co-scripted Memories Of Murder) - shows the minutiae of work on a fishing boat, suggesting the chaos and tight-knit relationships, from the tumble of nets to cooking and clothes. With catches poor and debts mounting, Captain Kang Chul-jo (Kim Yun-seok) - whose home life is also on stormy seas - is facing the very real possibility that his ship's owner might sell it to cut his losses. In the spirit of desperate times calling for desperate measures, Kang decides the answer to his prayer could be acting as a fisher of men (and women) - derogatorily termed "croaker fishing" in South Korea - agreeing to accept a consignment of illegal emigres from China.

As the migrants come aboard, a storm - and storm of imagery - rages, with chaos on the boat and a tumble overboard allowing the set-up of an unexpected romance arc between young sailor Dong-sik (Park Yoo-chun) and hapless migrant Hong-mae (Han Ye-ri). This romance element of the plot, while initially holding promise in terms of exploring the relationships on board, ends up feeling like an uneasy stowaway as Sung-bo steers his film in the direction of full-on horror.

The early storm turns out to be the least of the sailors' problems as their inexperience and the general terrible condition of the boat - coupled with sea fog (the Korean translation of the film's title) - conspire to push them towards increasingly animal tendencies.

This is where the social commentary aspect of the script falls down - by setting up character types rather than more 'human' individuals, the filmmakers miss a trick, as the action descends into into a bloodbath that stretches the bounds of believability. The sex-crazed ship's deputy (Lee Hee-jun) is particularly thinly drawn and the misogynistic attitudes towards the women on the boat, while justifiable while the film is on a social-realist even keel, feel wallowed in once Shim lets genre cliches loose at the tiller.

Reviewed on: 02 Mar 2015
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The attempt of a fishing ship’s crew to smuggle illegal migrants ends in catastrophe.

Director: Shim Sung-bo

Writer: Bong Joon-ho, Shim Sung-bo

Starring: Kim Yun-seok, Park Yoo-chun, Han Ye-ri, Mun Seong-kun, Kim Sang-ho, Lee Hee-jun, Yoo Seung-mok, Jung In-gi, Jo Kyung-Sook

Year: 2014

Runtime: 111 minutes

Country: South Korea


SSFF 2014
NDNF 2015

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