It’s a bit difficult to write a review about a film that’s supposedly one of the (if not)most expensive films to come out of South Korea. I would definitely try to consider the effort made by the filmmakers, director Kwak Gyeong Taek‘s “Typhoon” boasts of a staggering budget in the nation’s history. The film has been shot in different locations such as Pusan, Thailand and Russia with a partial international cast. This film is reminiscent of South Korean films such as the terrific “Shiri
” (my first experience with a Korean film), Park Chan-Wook‘s J.S.A
., “Taek Guk Gi” and “Silmido
” with the tensions between North and South Korea as its main premise.
July 2004, In the waters of South Asia, pirates board an American ship to steal its cargo of satellite guidance receiver systems; the type used for nuclear missiles. When the deed is discovered, the main culprit originated from North Korea; a terrorist named “Sin“ (Jang Kun-Dong). The South Korean side sends in special agent Gang (Jeong Jae Lee) to follow the trail of the rogue agent to recover the stolen system, carefully trying to piece together the remnants of Sin’s past. Sin apparently fled from N. Korea with his family, all of whom were killed in the attempt; except for his sister (Lee Mi-Yeon). Blaming both North and South Korea for the death of his family, Sin has dedicated himself in destroying both countries. He plots a scheme that will painfully cause the death of millions in the Korean peninsula. The fate of both countries hang in the balance….
“Typhoon” has a very strong plot, it is complex and full of emotional content. The film is structured to reveal its secrets in a gradual fashion after its first act. The film jumps from one place to another, from one timeline to another in the form of flashbacks that covers much of the history behind the antagonist, Sin. This style works for the film as it does give it somewhat of an epic feel. Despite the fact that it succumbs to the usual plot devices, the film is actually intelligent and quite riveting at times.
However, it is totally understandable that “Typhoon” failed to bring in viewers. Some folks may see the similarities to the Hollywood film; “Peacemaker” without the slam-bang action scenes. The director opted to sidestep the usual heroics and avoids explosive helter skelter action sequences in favor of slow, spy sequences and the occasional display of violence. As a result, the film’s pace is slow-moving and feels more like a drama than an action film which it has been billed as. As a result, this film is likely to disappoint people looking for an entertaining, fast-paced affair. The big budget was probably due to the fact that it’s made in various locations across the globe, the money wasn’t spent on the explosive special effects.
One other problem the film has is that the main antagonist, Sin (Jang Kun-Dong) is the only character well-rounded and developed. You may say that he is an anti-hero, the flashbacks dispersed throughout give his character a lot of dimensions that people may begin to sympathize with him. There is a very moving scene with Sin’s sister (played by Lee Mi-yeon) that gives a lot of humanity and depth to his character; you see him as a breathing human being. The hero of the film; Gang is so one-dimensional and flat that even though he is out to protect the lives of innocents, I didn’t connect to his character at all, I just didn’t find myself rooting for this protagonist. Despite Sin’s apparent humanity, Sin is a homicidal maniac but the film seemed hard-pressed to portray him as such. The background on Sin may be the film’s strongest aspect but it left the supposed “hero” so robotic and pale in comparison that I didn’t care much about his efforts. The film explores more as to “how” such a devilish act is being performed and never as to “why” it is being performed. The film also points an accusing finger at other countries for their actions or lack thereof, there is a hint of patriotism before the climax that folks will either find moving or too melodramatic. Some scenes may prove to be a bit overstretched and unnecessary.
Overall, “Typhoon” is a moving, thought-provoking film that makes an effective commentary on the hardships of the North-South divide. While the film does concern itself more about the underlying suspense as we watch Sin’s plans come to fruition, I still found that it did make an effort to make a genuine personal case for the suffering of the Korean people caused by politicians and governments around the world.
Recommended! [ 3 ½ Stars]
Note: I own the uncut Asian release, I did not have the opportunity to see its U.S. theatrical release in the SF Asian film festival in 2006. I’ve read that Dreamworks has bought the rights to this film, they are reportedly planning to make a U.S. version under the same director. This film may also be re-edited and re-cut for American audiences, I usually am not too fond of this idea, but in this case, the editing may show a better fast-paced film.