If you can follow the plot of The Yellow Sea, the Korean film from 2010 written and directed by Na Hong-Jin, then you must be Korean, or at least speak the language fluently. Those are the only reasons I can think of why so many western viewers online, including myself, found this flick’s plot to be confusing, at best, and impenetrable, at worst. The good news is that doesn’t matter. Normally, when a movie has a plot that I can’t follow, that is a bad thing. Not so with The Yellow Sea. About halfway through, I gave up on trying to keep track of all the twists and turns, and just sat back and enjoyed one of the best action films that has hit cinemas in this decade.
Gu-nam (Ha Jung-woo) has a problem. He’s an ethnic Korean born and raised in northern China, which has its disadvantages, apparently. He is what is known as a Joseonjok, a blanket term for ethnic Koreans in the country. In order to finance a better life, Gu-nam goes into debt with some local coyotes to arrange transportation to South Korea for his wife. Because the standard of living in South Korea is so much higher than in China, she should be able to work and send back enough money to Gu-nam to pay off the debt to the coyotes and finance a trip down to the peninsula for both Gu-nam and the couple’s young child. But, something goes wrong. Gu-nam’s wife has been in Seoul for months, and nary a check has arrived. On top of that, the coyotes want their cash. In desperate straits, Gu-nam agrees to be smuggled in to South Korea on a fishing boat, to carry out a hit for a Joseonjok gangster, with the understanding that the debt will be paid. Continue reading “The Empty Balcony: The Yellow Sea”