Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Touted as the most expensive Korean movie ever, Typhoon certainly blusters in with a lot of huff and puff about it. Frustratingly, when the hot air clears we're only left with a stormy mess on the screen.

Somewhere in the East China Sea an American boat is boarded by modern day North Korean pirates, the Chung-Wie clan, who brutally massacre the shifty looking crew. The wild-eyed pirate leader, Sin (Chang Dong-Gun), has come for the secret shipment of America-commissioned nuclear weapons guidance kits, which he is soon trading with the Russian mafia. This is quite a worry for the American and South Korean governments - so clinically buffed South Korean agent Se-Jong (Lee Jeong-Jae) is sent after Sin for that inevitable showdown.

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En route Sin's story is back-filled, revealing how, 20 years ago, he saw his parents gunned down while attempting to defect to the South. He was looked after by his elder sister, Choi Myung-Ju, but then separated from her as well, with both presuming the other dead and Sin vowing death to all South Koreans. We're all back up to the present when Se-Jong tracks down Choi Myung-Ju (Lee Mi-Yeon) to force Sin out of hiding and into bartering.

Meanwhile, Sin the pirate is turning to terrorism, exchanging his nicked hardware for some particularly nasty radioactive material. With two huge typhoons slowly colliding over the Korean Peninsula, he's planning to use hundreds of small weather balloons to launch his glowing gunk into the turbulent atmosphere and so rain down his bitter revenge on the country.

Simple enough, but when you chuck the Russian rumblings, the American angle, the Chinese connections and the North/South Korean divide into the storm, everything just gets too messy. When the film keeps relying on voice-overs to provide exposition and as springboards to drive the plot then it's significantly mis-firing. This is meant to be a visual narrative with a script after all. Make no mistake, plenty of that record-breaking budget is up on the screen, with pans of sea-drenched ships, sweeps of American submarines, CGI'd helicopters and slick camera work in a myriad of authentic locations, but it all amounts to an overly busy mish-mash. It's pity more wasn't spent on the script.

A little less on the music, too. For the most part I found the pop-operatic, sub-Bruckheimer soundtrack over-produced and decidedly annoying. The histrionics of the young and older Sin and the mutually respectful relationship he develops with Se-jong are portrayed clunkily enough already and music like this makes the heavy melodrama of it all overpowering.

Chang Dong-Gun and Lee Jeong-Jae are definitely committed, but their performances don't particularly help either, failing to draw us into the melee. Sin is only ever staring glassily into space or indulging in frantic hysterics, while Se-Jong strikes reliably wooden poses. Lesser characters are more pantomime, especially the other criminals - and when, for some reason, they start trying to emote in English, any hope of taking them seriously is gone. This may have been an appeal for and to a more Western audience, but subtitles all the way would have been far less disruptive to the acting. That said, the subtleties of changing Korean accents will be lost on anyone who cannot speak the language.

Everything and everyone seems to be under the impression that writer/director Kwak Kyung-Taek's most strident theme - the socio-political split between North and South Korea - is what really matters and is weighty enough to carry them all through. He certainly rams home his point that the divide is undermining both countries and all the people.

This is personified most by Sin and Se-Jong, with Sin's tragic history trying to get us to root for him as much as the good guy, to blur the lines between the North and South characters. Their 'we're-the-same-really' patter is now a generic filmic device but at least Kyung-Taek uses it to convey the countries' struggles and humanise the political issues for a wide audience. In itself it's a bold, admirable attempt to highlight and infuse an action adventure flick with a real world concern. As appealing as this has been for its Korean audiences, unfortunately it's not enough to redress the rest of the film's imbalances to make it a satisfying whole.

Reviewed on: 20 Apr 2007
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Blustering Korean action adventure with political undertones.
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Director: Kwak Kyung-Taek

Writer: Kwak Kyung-Taek

Starring: Chang Dong-Gun, Lee Jeong-Jae, Lee Mi-Yeon, Kim Kab-Su, David Lee McInnis, Chatthapong Phantana-Angkul, Heo Wook Seon

Year: 2005

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


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