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HAEUNDAE (aka. Tidal Wave)

South Korean Disaster movie

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South Korean Filmmakers Takes a Stab at a DISASTER MOVIE With a Strong Humanism...

  • Jan 31, 2010
Disaster movies. For some reason, the general movie-going public has an attraction to such movies. Hollywood had just recently released “2012” and now South Korean filmmakers together with the special effects people (Polygon Entertainment) of “The Day After Tomorrow” are poised to have their own interpretation of a disaster flick titled “Haeundae” (2009, titled “Tidal Wave” in Europe and “Tsunami in Hae Un dae” in some parts of Asia). I have rather become a bit jaded with the usual disaster movie trappings but surprisingly, the movie proved to be a lot better than I expected. I was stunned to learn that this is the movie that beat AVATAR in the South Korean box-office in 2009 (but then "Avatar" was only playing in the last month of that year). Director Yoo Je-Kyoon manages to get the right amount of bleakness and the essential uplifting message just right.

Haeundae is a small city located in the South eastern tip of the Korean peninsula. It is a place that draws more than 1 million beach goers every year. During the last 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake lost several of the small city’s locals including Yeon-hee’s (Ha Ji-Won) father that made Man-sik (Sol Kyung-Goo) reluctant to profess his love for Yeon-Hee. The people of Haeundae do about their daily routine until a scientist named Kim Hwi (Park Joong Hoon) discovers something amiss around the coast of Korea. Earthquakes have become increasingly more frequent than usual that he fears that it may upset the stability of the East Sea that may trigger the dreaded Mega Tsunami; a tidal wave that towers about 100 meters that can devastate the small area. His pleas come upon deaf ears and of course in matters like this, no one can be sure. Then it finally happens, and it may be too late to save everyone in the small city…

“Haeundae” starts off stereotypically enough, a scientist whose pleas of impending doom go ignored by the rich and the powerful. It is always the politics of human affairs that proves to be the driving force for disaster movies. I suppose any director (Yoo included) sees that divisions of government can never be too cautious, that they’d rather react than actually act to make certain that a disaster is real before taking action. The incidents in the 2004 Tsunami in Asia are actually touched upon and quite frankly, this may indeed happen in real life. It is always the “are you willing to take responsibility or we can’t be sure. I guess this is a fault that humans face everyday; we just react and rather than look dumb to take the precautions to be sure, we take a chance. Yes, the movie starts off with some used clichés but thankfully, it isn’t all the film has up its sleeve.
So what makes “Haeundae” different from the disaster movies produced by Hollywood? Well, for one thing it is not afraid to portray a disaster as something very tragic. The film has some gruesome and disturbing images that can give some viewers pause; In a Tsunami, a lot of people would drown and the direction doesn’t hold back. The images of the dead are abundant in the film and the direction does give its focus on the tragedy of the loss of human life. Now for the viewer to become invested in the film, the viewer needs to care about its characters. The characters are played out as regular people up to their daily routine, they have their own issues, pains and challenges but they are just ’living’ for themselves. The characters felt very human and the viewer is taken for a look at the every day life in the small city. There are schemes to get rich, plans to land a job and the usual family problems and complications. I guess director Yoo Je-Kyoon wanted to portray the city itself as a character in the film, so that we can relate to what such a disaster can mean to the city’s structure and inhabitants.


Despite the manner as to how the movie portrays the disaster, the film does succeed in throwing in some bit of humor in the movie’s first half. We see a rich, beautiful young woman (Kang Ye-Won) become attracted to a struggling rescue worker (Lee Min-ki) and their ‘dates’ provide the needed light-hearted balance in the movie’s experience. Kim Hwi has his own issues as he is separated from his pretty wife (Uhm Jung-Hwa) and his own daughter doesn’t even know him. Dong Choon (Kim In-Kwon) is a struggling, jobless young man whose mother supports him. The movie doesn’t just focus on the characters of Man-sik and Yeon-Hee, it is ambitious enough to admit that a disaster doesn’t just affect one family but a whole lot of families. In the face of tragedy we see the heroism that is within good people as well as the worst in us. I applaud the director for remembering to pay homage to those whose jobs require them to risk their lives for a stranger’s welfare. 

The special effects made by U.S. based company Polygon Entertainment is on par with the effects of “The Day After Tomorrow” but may be inferior to recent ones such as “2012”. Once the mega-tsunami hits, the movie goes into overdrive. The viewer is taken to the experience itself as we become witness to the effects of the tsunami during and after the disaster. Skyscrapers are crushed, cars are tossed around, streets are full of drowning people. Every one tries to survive the disaster and not everyone will, lives are ended, dreams are crushed all because of the force of nature. The film is quite bleak in its portrayal of the tragedy, it uses the drama of human existence to bring forth the loss of family and friends. Now don’t think the movie depresses in a way that just puts you down, the film knows how to bring forth the resiliency of the human spirit and its ability to grieve, mourn and finally adapt, then rebuild. Western audiences may find the movie a little depressing, but at least, it doesn’t pretend that tragedies affect people…emotionally and psychologically. There is a good sense of humanity in the film and is not afraid to go through with its premise.
So do I think this Korean disaster movie better than “2012”? When it comes to its effects, then no, “Haeundae” is inferior but if we talk about its storyline and the manner that it develops its characters and develops its message, I would have to say yes. There is a certain amount of sincerity that the direction goes about its premise and is not afraid to push the message that human life is valuable and we just cannot give up. Despite some flaws in the script that it started off with clichéd elements and some formulaic devices, it certainly abandons them to bring forth a sense of humanity in the scenes. This is not a film that ends with a smile, it is honest enough to say that certain disasters take its toll and all we can do is hope for the best. I guess in a way, the film is a movie about hope and moving on.
Highly Recommended! [4- Stars]

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South Korean Filmmakers Takes a Stab at a DISASTER MOVIE With a Strong Humanism... South Korean Filmmakers Takes a Stab at a DISASTER MOVIE With a Strong Humanism... South Korean Filmmakers Takes a Stab at a DISASTER MOVIE With a Strong Humanism... South Korean Filmmakers Takes a Stab at a DISASTER MOVIE With a Strong Humanism... South Korean Filmmakers Takes a Stab at a DISASTER MOVIE With a Strong Humanism... South Korean Filmmakers Takes a Stab at a DISASTER MOVIE With a Strong Humanism...

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February 11, 2010
I will certainly check this one out! The last tsunami was very close to home & the city where I was born in. It's a little eerie when one thinks about it; many years ago, I had seen what the end of the world looks like in my dream/nightmare (way before What Dreams May Come was on the screen & it's like deja vu when I saw the scenes of hell)! I was running like crazy while the floor beneath was melting away.... interestingly, the instinctive response is to run for your life ;-)
February 04, 2010
This movie sounds really good Woopak, I've watch 2012 and thought it was garbage plus they put so many unnecessary scenes into that film. Have you settle in your new place yet?.....It's always a good feeling I hope to do it this summer.
February 04, 2010
2012 may have the more spiffy visuals but the plot was hollow. This one had a better storyline IMHO. The EFX on this matches DAY AFTER TOMORROW which it still looked good. I didn't like 2012, check out my review if you haven't already. I'll be moving to the new place tomorrow, almost done packing. Thanks, milady!
January 31, 2010
Every time I read your reviews, I am reminded of how much I need to sign up for Netflix (are these Asian films available from Netflix)? The film looks like it has a beautiful setting, and, being a fan of character-driven titles, I will have to check this one out (eventually).
February 01, 2010
It will be since the movie is scheduled to get a limited U.S. release in select cities. I got lucky and I managed to buy the Korean import. This was real good, and I can confidently say that you will like this one. It is fresher than the usual H-wood disaster movies.
February 01, 2010
I haven't watched any of the latest Hollywood disaster movies, mostly because they can be very predictable. But this does sound like something I'd enjoy. Thank you.
February 02, 2010
I hope you get to at least rent THIRST, it is just so sweet! If you like Samurai movies then the anime SHIGURUI DEATH FRENZY will awe you with its darkness.
February 02, 2010
I've added Shigurui to my Amazon wish list since reading your review, and I will read up on THIRST. Thanks!
February 02, 2010
I've added Shigurui to my Amazon wish list since reading your review, and I will read up on THIRST. Thanks!
January 31, 2010
I think I will peep this one.
January 31, 2010
Oh yes, my friend, you do.
January 31, 2010
Now I think I'll be on he lookout for this one because, as you say, it's going to hve more in common with THE HOST than with 2012 even though it would appear the other way around. I got some good news from Jet Eller the guy who did NIGHT FEEDERS that great little horror flick about rednecks battling aliens hat I liked so much. He's going to be starting a new flick in shortly! Almost makes me forget that $260 million was spent on AVATAR! There were a couple of extra dollars somwhere that Cameron did get hold of! I hope it's a genre flick!
January 31, 2010
Yup. This had some characterizations that appear stereotypical at first glance but once the movie reaches its resolution, you'll find that they were necessary to bring one's hopes, dreams, second chances into light. This one focused more on its characters rather than EFX (much like THE HOST). I just used the photos of the wave to entice.

Eller will be doing a new flick? awesome! Y'know they never came out with that anamorphic widescreen transfer for NIGHT FEEDERS. I bet they're waiting for it to be remastered for Blu Ray also.
January 31, 2010
I wish they'd get a move on it!
January 31, 2010
I'd upgrade my dvd in a second!
January 31, 2010
I can't wait to see what his new film will be. He said he had a sequel already written to NF, but that doesn't mean it's what he's doing 'cause he mentioned a lot of other things as well.
January 31, 2010
Wow, those special effects shots are realistic! This looks pretty decent for a disaster flick. Now, I might have to look for this at the rental place, but how do you pronounce the title?
January 31, 2010
This was real good, it practiced a sense of restraint that it made the characters be the film's focus and the EFX only a supporting angle. I think it's pronounced Ha-ee-un-da. It is about to get a limited release in SF and it will have its European title: "Tidal Wave" or "Tsunami". Bet the dvd release will also adapt the European title.
January 31, 2010
Cool. It looks refreshingly more realistic when compared to Hollywood disaster flicks.
January 31, 2010
I've uploaded more photos...
January 31, 2010
I love how realistic it looks. That flood shot is kind of reminiscent of the photos they were showing after the tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004.
January 31, 2010
yup. Notice too that the water's filthy whereas in "Day After Tomorrow" the water was clear even when it washed the streets of New York.
January 31, 2010
Yeah, but the director of that film was an idiot. LOL!
January 31, 2010
yeh, what's he trying to say? New York City is that sparkling clean?! LOL
January 31, 2010
Not when I was there, but of course I never visited for more than a few days.
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William ()
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File:Haeundae film poster.jpg
 Haeundae was released in the United Kingdom under the title "Tidal Wave" and has also been known under the title "Tsunami at Haeundae" in some parts of Asia. Some parts of the film was filmed in San Francisco, California in December 2008. Released in South Korea on July 2009 with an estimated budget of 10-15 million dollars.
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