April 15, 2010
his week on Feature Film Friday, we take a look at a foreign film that made huge waves in Korea over the summer and has brought its momentum to the island of Guam. "Haeundae" is a "disaster" film that boasts amazing special effects, great character development, romance, tons of comic relief and its fair share of drama. Before we get into this Korean blockbuster, let's get familiarized with the disaster genre. Disaster movies are developed by the evolution of their characters (like dramas) but have their plots carried by their action sequences. The premise behind them is typically a man vs nature plotline that tries to show the face of humanity when pitted against the most treacherous of natural disasters - i.e. meteors, tidal waves, earthquakes etc. We've all seen them. Movies like "Armageddon","Deep Impact", "The Day After Tomorrow" and the highly anticipated "2012." However, most of these disaster films fall short in that their character development tends to lack enough volume and thus the viewers tend to lack sympathy when the actual climax of the movie occurs. There are few exceptions, like "Titanic," the three-hour American classic which built up a steamy romance for 90% of the movie before introducing its tragic ending. "Haeundae" follows similar suit.
"Haeundae," named after the beach that makes up the southern coast of Busan, Korea, revolves around 10 people, whose lives are interconnected through the events that take place on the popular beach spot. Without giving up too much of the story, the main characters in the movie are a fisherman Choi Man-Shik, his lifeguard brother, a female fishery owner who has a crush on Choi, a scientist who predicts treacherous signs of a possible tsunami and the mother of his child. What "Haeundae" does remarkably well is actively develop the relationships of the 10 main characters so that they grow on the audience. The first 85% of the movie is a mixture of comedy and romance as the protagonists go through various events. Many of the protagonists begin to evolve as people in the first hour and half of the film and all this growth does well to prepare the viewers for what is a stunning last half hour of action.
The contrast between the first hour and the last 30 minutes are like day and night. While the former is filled with tons of comedy and two very interesting love stories, the latter portion is pure action and tragedy. I would put a spoiler alert right here but in a movie about a tidal wave hitting, it should be no suprise that the climax of the film is this very event. That said, the special effects and computer graphics during the last half hour of the film are simply breathtaking. A feat to be admired when you take in the consideration that "Haeundae" cost less than $12 million -- Roughly 20% of what US movies with similar graphic quality are budgeted with.
But the true gem lies in the drama. When the misfortune affects the lives of the protagonists, you can't help but feel and know their pain. The primary characters are so well developed that while you will be able to sympmathize with all the characters, there will certainly be one or two characters that everyone will be able to empathize with. This is what separates "Haeundae" from every movie this year. While I do not feel as "Haeundae" is the best movie of 2009, it definitely has the best character development.
It's hard to say where the film's faults lie. It is very difficult to compare foreign films to domestic films but having watched Korean film classics such as "Old Boy", "Ganster High" and "Punch Lady", I think it's fairly safe to say that "Haeundae" holds it's ground with the best.
Bojo Molina and the management at the Tango Theaters should be applauded for their risk taking. It was their determination and open-minded thinking that brought this Korean blockbuster to our movie screens -- and it was a risk well worth pursuing.
If you are adamant about watching something in the theaters this weekend, I urge you to cruise down to the Tango Theaters at the Micronesia Mall and catch "Haeundae." Yes, its in Korean. Yes, it's subtitled. But the film itself is rich in story and visual stimulation, that even the most strict of film appetites will be satisfied. In my opinion, unless you are interested in a cookie-cutter zombie comedy like "Zombieland," "Haeundae" is the best film to invest your hard earned money in this weekend.
4.75 out of 5 stars