Director: Kwak Kyung-taek
Year: 2005
Production Company: Zininsa Film
Running Time: 125 minutes

Typhoon was one of the most anticipated films of the year with enough hype to sink a battleship. It not only had the biggest budget of any Korean film in history but also had the director with one of the biggest hits (“Friend”) on his resume. With an opening weekend of over 3 million ticket sales it looked like it would easily be the biggest box office hit of the year – and then all of a sudden everyone stopped going. Negative word of mouth stopped the film in its tracks and it only sputtered to a little over 4 million in total tickets sold.

In this case, the word of mouth was right on target. This film is emotionally as flat as road kill no matter how hard the director attempts to inject vast amounts of pathos into it. And does he ever try – even right through the end credits he is still pumping away, but none of it works – it just feels cheap and manipulative and you can see through it a mile away. Even the usually formidable letter to mom before the big mission has you impateintly rolling your eyeballs. To some degree Kwak is trying to replicate some of the emotions that made “Friend” such a big hit, but while it seemed to work in that film duplicating it here is stretching things beyond the breaking point (though in truth I am not a big fan of “Friend” as I found the male relationships a bit farfetched). The “bonding” of the good guy and the bad guy here is so absurd and out of place that it’s hard not to laugh at times – at one point the hero says something to the effect that in another world they could have been friends and later the villain returns the compliment as they brandish knives at one another “You and I understand one another”. I expected them to kiss. Of course this bonding is partly explained because they are both Koreans and the real villain here is the United States and geopolitics.
Sin (Jang Dong-kun) and his gang of merry Thai pirates kill the crew and steal something from a ship that the U.S. was transporting. Though the Korean intelligence is warned to stay out of it by the U.S., they assign naval officer, Se-jong (Lee Jung-jae), to track him down. Lee plays Se-jong like a grown up version of Howdy Doody with the big ears included – he is everything a mother-in-law would want – kind, gentle, clean cut, compassionate eyes – but perhaps not what is right for this mission. The film sweeps though Thailand, Korea and Russia as Se-jong looks for Sin – it also takes a lengthy flashback detour as we discover why Sin is so pissed off at everyone and wants the “people of Korea to die in a pool of their own blood and guts”. Most of it feels so formulaic and perhaps that’s why Hollywood has shown some interest in it as Dreamworks had plans to release it in the U.S. Everything though feels second hand including the emotions.

My rating for this film: 5.5


Reviewed: 02/06

Previous films from the Director:

Mutt Boy (2003)
Champion (2002)
Friend (2001)
Dr. K (1998)
3 p.m. Paradise (1997)