In his second outing as director, Hong-jin Na provides an interesting piece in the form of The Yellow Sea, a film which manages to be in equal parts entertaining as it is frustrating and, at times, genuinely offensive.

This film suffers from all the classic problems of the thriller genre, indulging in a convoluted storyline revolving around Huan (Jung-woo Ha), and his attempts to eliminate his debts and get his wife back by agreeing to assassinate a man he has never met on the order of a local mob boss, Myan (Yun-seok Kim), and lo and behold, finds himself embroiled in much deeper web of mob activities, animosities and on the run from a laughably incompetent police force. Furthermore, Na proves less than averse to committing the cardinal sin of the thriller and action genres, delaying the introduction of apparently key characters until the film is entering its death throes. Yet, it is the depiction of women in this film which is truly worrying, with almost all female characters, who are no more than peripheral to the thrust of the story, introduced in graphic sex scenes, a fact that leaves one feeling rather uncomfortable.

However, this film would not be nearly as frustrating, were it not for its redeeming characteristics; those that left one enjoying it despite the aforementioned flaws.  For instance, effort has clearly been put into painting a rather stark picture of the isolation of our protagonist, which may feel out of place at times, creating jarring shifts in pace between melancholic dwelling and laughable action sequences, but is nonetheless is nice to see.  Equally, as the film progresses and the pace levels out, one can revel in the fantastic interplay between our two mob bosses, one the consummate business man who’s underlings do his dirty work, the other an hatchet wielding psychopath.  Moreover, with a particular revelation at the end, one can’t help but question whether Na intended this to be a film that displays the mindlessness and irrationality of violence, a feat aptly achieved.

This is not a good film; it has massive flaws, including objectification of women and a rather convoluted plot that could so easily have been cut to create a film that was both more consistent and more appropriate in length. Further, one should note that it does descend into a blood bath that will leave some viewers feeling uncomfortable. Nevertheless, there is a sense of fun to this film, with some comedic undertones and a great deal of soul, which makes it enjoyable, far more so than some more formulaic action films.

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