Tidal Wave (Haeundae)

Dir: Yoon Je-kyoon
Star: Sol Kyung-gu, Ha Ji-won, Lee Min-ki, Kang Ye-won

Maybe there's something about just seeing another country's disaster porn, but I enjoyed this Korean entry in the genre much more than almost any Hollywood effort, even if it follows virtually the same rules. It's set on (and the Korean title comes from) a beach resort, where a broad range of characters cross paths and interact. These include (deep breath) the orphaned girl who sells seafood, the fisherman who feels responsible for her father's death; the property developer; the brave rescue swimmer; the rich obnoxious brat. And, most importantly of all, the scientist who is desperately attempting to warn authorities of the potential disaster, as an ongoing series of earthquakes move towards the Korean coast, threatening to unleash a megatsunami. Is that the sound of the SyFy channel commissioning a movie in the distance? No. It is the sound of inevitability: because after 75 minutes or so of drama and odd Korean comedy, it's earthquake time.

I can see why the international release was edited, as much of the first half is largely superfluous in terms of being necessary to the plot. However, it was off-centre enough to keep us interested, with some strange individuals, and stuff you wouldn't typically see in an American film (kids being slapped and puppies kicked). Then, of course, there are the money shots in the second half, which are very impressively-staged, most of them being easily the equal of anything Hollywood has managed. But even here, there are moments which are distinctly foreign, such as a sequence on a bridge involving falling containers that actually made me laugh out loud - not what you'd expect in the middle of all the carnage. The movie does goes a little too far into the melodrama thereafter, with probably three scenes where direction appeared to consist entirely of exhortations to "Chew the scenery HARDER!" However, as a cinematic spectacle, it's highly-acceptable.

[September 2012]

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