Saturday, September 6, 2014

HaeMoo Reviews from TIFF

HaeMoo Reviews

HaeMoo Reviews/Reactions from the recently concluded TIFF...

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Haemoo - 9/10

A fishing boat crew on its last legs are forced to take up a human smuggling job. Absolutely fantastic, my favorite film of TIFF. The intensity throughout the entire film is incredibly well-done as is the portrayal of the descents of all the characters. I was iffy on a romantic subplot that is introduced at the beginning of the film but it becomes part of the foundation that holds the entire film up. Once the second act of the film starts up, it never really slows down. This film is packed with incredibly uncomfortable but powerful scenes and there were noticeable gasps in my audience throughout most of the final two acts of the film. The camera is shaky, the score is great, the scenes look beautiful. I loved, loved, loved, loved this movie. My only complaint is the ending which I thought could’ve been cut out entirely but it didn’t really hurt the film much.

Haemoo was absolutely fantastic. My favourite of the festival. Intense all the way through. South Korea - keep doing it right.

Haemoo was brilliant, a fishing tale u don't want 2 miss!

Love how one of my favorites of the fest I see second to last. Love me some Haemoo!

was a tense South Korean thriller, like Reservoir Dogs on a fishing boat w/ other humans as the loot. Loved it

Haemoo, Equalizer and Before We Go are three distinct movies that will break your heart, scare you or make you smile

Well, 10 days and 30 films later, is sadly over. My top 5: 1) It Follows 2) Haemoo 3) '71 4) Alleluia 5) The Keeping Room

Finally done with . My 5 favourite films I saw were: 1) A Pigeon Sat on a Branch 2) Force Majeure 3) Mommy 4) Nightcrawler 5) Haemoo
Final Reviews: The Crow’s Egg, Big Game, Men, Women & Children, 99 Homes and Haemoo

Haemoo was not what I expected. Definitely worth a watch.

Haemoo, Equalizer and Before We Go are three distinct movies that will break your heart, scare you or make you smile
may be difficult to watch but it is also impossible to look away. Beauty, grandeur and terror.

TOP 5 of : 5. Haemoo 8.3/10 4. Wild 8.5/10 3. Mommy/tied with/Men Women and Children 8.9/10 2. A Hard Day 9.2/10 1. Whiplash 9.4/10



TIFF 2014 Review

[Lewis Pictures; 2014] Director: Shim Sung-Bo
Runtime: 111 minutes

Written by , September 15, 2014 at 10:15 am 

Haemoo is an effective moral thriller that immediately mirrors the best work of its co-writer and producer Bong Joon-ho. What starts as slow and straight-forward goes south quickly, raising the stakes drastically as difficult decisions are made — first for profit, and secondly for survival. Opening with a near-fatal, yet tone-setting accident on a fishing boat, Kang (Kim Yoon-seok) is a captain in a very difficult position. After a series of bad luck and poor financial decisions he finds himself over extended, unable to secure a bank loan to sail the ship as a legitimate cargo operation. Turning to the mob, Kang quickly finds himself in a moral dilemma: rather than leave his crew high and dry he reluctantly agrees to smuggle a group of Koreans leaving China with the promise of asylum in South Korea.

Treating his new occupants like cargo leads to inherent conflicts, including the most disturbing strand of the story when a freon leak provides disastrous consequences. At the heart of the moral delema is our hero Dong-sik (Park Yu-chun), a young sailor learning the ropes. He’s fallen for a pretty young immigrant Hong-mae (Han Ye-ri) and has already landed on the boss’ radar. At port he’s told to go get a room because doing their business on the boat is considered bad luck. Foreshadowing, check.


Mirroring Bong Joon-ho’s latest feature Snowpiercer, Haemoo manages to be an effective thriller as well as a socially conscious heritage film. Set in 1998 amongst an IMF crisis fueling the need for cheap labor, it is ripe for additional commentary. Directed by first-time filmmaker (and Bong collaborator, having co-written Memories of Murder) Shim Sung-bo, the thriller elements simply deliver. What starts as an atmospheric maritime drama commenting on social class amongst the seaman (and their cargo) grows ugly. When their cargo expires, the crew is commanded to embark on the ugly business of disposing bodies and possessions. Along the way there are tense moments, disagreements and discussions, while all the while we genuinely care about Dong-sik and Hong-mae as innocent bystanders.
Both atmospheric (its title in English is translated to Sea Fog) and claustrophobic, the thriller is expertly lensed by cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo (Mother, Snowpiercer) and tensely paced by editors Kim Sang-bum and Kim Jae-bum. The influence of Bong is apparent throughout the film, yet Shim’s direction is top notch and a text book example of misdirection. While the film’s first act never quite lets on just how horrific things will get as the captain (and crew) go down with the ship, Shim’s direction grows more confident as he expertly delivers genre thrills and moral dilemmas. While it flounders a bit early on, Haemoo evolves into an exceptional thriller while Park and Han create memorable characters going above and beyond their role: they think, feel and fight back.

Haemoo screened at TIFF. See our complete coverage below and the trailer here.


TIFF 2014: Haemoo Review

Haemoo Gala

With Snowpiercer finally out and as beloved as all assumed it would be, the time has come to appreciate Joon-ho Bong’s next movie….kind of. He produced and co-wrote Haemoo, while directing duties fell into the hands of his longtime writing partner Sung-Bo Shim. Bong’s fingerprints remain on the film in its radical tonal shifts, but beyond that Shim delivers a different beast of a film. For one thing, Bong’s heavy genre movie influence is all but removed. Haemoo is based on a true story about a ragtag of impoverished South Korean fisherman (with various degrees of prickishness in the group) who agree to smuggle a collection of illegal Chinese immigrant into their country for a little extra cash. Describing more would be unfair given the way that Shim and Bong structure their movie.

About halfway through the running time something happens that completely changes the tone, feel, and purpose of the film. For the first chunk, goofy humor pops up in pockets and there’s even an element of mild swashbuckling. By the end, the film is a terse and intense thriller with touches of Treasure of the Sierra Mandre. The script handles the radical shifts and complex morality of the tale masterfully, the acting is heartbreakingly real, and for first timer, Shim proves to be one hell of a director. He’s able to stage big set pieces, small claustrophobic suspense sequences, and intimate human tragedy with equal skill. Somehow he even mixes it all together in a film that feels tonally consistent despite its unpredictable nature. Tonal roller coasters have always been the Joon-ho Bong way of filmmaking and now it seems as though his former partner can continue the tradition from a different angle. 

The South Korean film world was already bursting with ridiculously talented auteurs before Haemoo, but it looks like we’re going to have to add another big boy to the list. (Phil Brown)
Tuesday, September 9, 6:30pm, Roy Thomson Hall
Wednesday, September 10, 12:00pm, Ryerson Theatre
Sunday, September14, 12:00pm, Ryerson Theatre


Sea Fog 2014 ★★★★½

At one point in my notes, I actually wrote "Holy Shit." There's a breathtaking sequence in the rain that you should try to see on the biggest screen possible. I like the first half more than the second but like the whole thing more as I think about it. It's incredibly well-crafted and so, so grim. Best I've seen here on the ground over the first two days.


'Haemoo': Toronto Review

Haemoo Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

The Bottom Line

A possible riveting nightmare fogged up by concessions to blockbuster conventions.


Toronto International Film Festival (Gala Presentations); also San Sebastian International Film Festival (Competition)


Shim Sung-bo


Kim Yoon-seok, Park Yoo-chun, Han Ye-ri, Moon Sung-keun


Bong Joon-ho produced and co-wrote first-time director Shim Sung-bo's thriller about a fishing-boat crew's descent into red mist after a botched human-trafficking operation

Quite a few recent Korean movies are obsessed with representing China as an external threat to security and order at home. There's a Korean-Chinese mob wreaking havoc in Seoul in the high-octane thriller The Yellow Sea, for example, and The Thieves' über-villain is a Chinese underworld kingpin. With Haemoo, screenwriter-turned-director Shim Sung-bo subverts this long-running equation by revealing the possibilities of Koreans being in the wrong when people from the two cultures collide, as he adapts Kim Min-jung's play about the real-life incidence of a Korean fishing boat crew casting the bodies of 25 Chinese illegal immigrants aboard after a botched smuggling operation.

It's not as if Shim hasn't dealt with this theme of crime and guilt before: His screenplay for the 2003 hit Memories of Murder, co-written by the film's director Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer), is a powerful suspense thriller which doubles up as a j'accuse about the moral void giving free rein to the neo-liberal, authoritarian excess of the U.S.-backed South Korean military dictatorship in the 1980s.

With Bong returning Shim the favor by serving as co-writer and producer, Haemoo (or "Sea Fog" in Korean) certainly boasts a similar sensitivity of turning a genre flick into a more substantial social allegory. Once in the directorial chair, however, Shim has shown himself to be more attuned to straightforward sensitivity than Bong. Subtlety and reflection are not Shim's strongest suit, with Haemoo subscribing to many of the conventions of both disaster epics and revenge drama, and the over-dependence of a central seaborne romance (complete with a below-deck sex scene) actually veering the film towards Titanic territory.
It's a gripping ride through the storm, nevertheless; with powerful imagery, a simple and accessible story and a stellar performance from Kim Yoon-seok (the star of The Yellow Sea and The Thieves, no less) as a captain slowly spiraling towards madness, Haemoo has become a commercial and critical triumph since its release in South Korea in August. Its bow as a gala presentation at Toronto and then a competition title at San Sebastian would certainly secure this big-budget vessel with an ever more respectable coating, and Bong's participation would probably lead to a niche release and/or ancillary action outside Asia.
The term 'IMF noir' has been used to describe films — among them Bong's The Host and also Lee Chang-dong's Peppermint Candy — which explore how ordinary South Koreans realize their fate as being dictated by the ebbs and flows of political and economic forces from beyond their home country's boundaries. Haemoo certainly qualifies as a fellow traveling show: set in 1998, three years before the real-life incident actually took place, the film's journey into darkness begins when trawler captain Kang Chul-joo (Kim) finds himself broke (and broken) beyond repair, his fortunes hit hard by the fallout of the Asian financial crisis.

Desperately trying to secure cash to save his creaking boat, Kang agrees to take on a 'croaker-fishing' commission, a phrase used to denote the trafficking of Korean-Chinese immigrants over to South Korea. It's a trip of no return for Kang and his crew as their harmless veneers begin to crack once the job goes awry. As deadly mayhem sets in — just at the very moment when a heavy fog renders zero-visibility around the boat — chaos reigns with all hands on board going crazy, including the bald, bumbling boatswain Ho-young (Kim Sang-ho), the swaggering handyman Kyung-goo (Yoo Seung-mok), the chief engineer Wan-ho (Moon Sung-keun) and his sex-crazed deputy Chang-wook (Lee Hee-joon).

The only faint light of humanity is personified here in Dong-sik (Park Yoo-chun), whose love for one of the immigrants emboldens him to rebel against this Kang-led rising tide of red mist. It's a crowd-pleasing trope no less — Park is a pop idol and soap opera star whose fame stretches well into China and Japan — but this romantic subplot derails the film's possible trajectory into fantastical eerie horror. When the girl, Hong-mae (Han Ye-ri), tells Dong-sik about her wish to head to an address in downtown Seoul once she arrives in Korea, you can really figure out how the story will pan out and who's going to survive all this.
Nevertheless, Haemoo offers a spectacle to behold: The camerawork from Hong Kyung-pyo (Snowpiercer) and Lee Ha-joon's production design are effective in highlighting the differences between the lands of vast, cold port and the unforgiving environments of the sea and cramped insides of the fishing boat. Kim Sang-bum and Kim Jae-bum's editing also helps the film set sail — their opening-sequence montage, showing the boat crew going about their daily business with bright bonhomie, is a clever signpost warning of how this camaraderie would inevitably give way to the emergence of their darker inner psyches.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Gala Presentations); also San Sebastian International Film Festival (Competition)
Production Company: Haemoo Co., Ltd
Cast: Kim Yoon-seok, Park Yu-chun, Han Ye-ri, Park Yoo-chun
Director: Shim Sung-bo
Screenwriters: Shim Sung-bo, Bong Joon-ho, based on a play by Kim Min-jung
Producers: Bong Joon-ho, Cho Neung-yeon, Lewis Taewan Kim with Yu In-soo
Executive producers: Kim Woo-taek
Director of photography: Hong Kyung-pyo
Production designer: Lee Ha-joon
Costume designer: Choi Se-yeon
Editors: Kim Sang-bum, Kim Jae-bum
Music: Jung Jae-il
Sales: Finecut
In Korean


Toronto 2014: 'Haemoo' review

Not content with dominating the rails with his recently lauded ferroquine sci-fi allegory Snowpiercer (2013), Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho has also sets his sights on the high-seas with nautical adventure Haemoo (2014). Co-written by Bong and director Shim Sung-bo, it showcases precisely why certain Korean directors are currently the toast of Hollywood, playfully lacing a sombre trawler-set stage play adaptation with social context, interesting characters and that off-kilter humour so redolent in the country's genre fare. Whilst not uniformly successful in its execution, it provides ample excitement and never fails to keep the audience off balance with unexpected plot lurches amidst perilous sea fog.

The 'Junjin' is a fishing trawler that harbours in a small coastal town and is serviced by a limited local crew. When they return home from their latest trip empty handed after a machinery malfunction, Captain Kang (Kim Yoon-seok) has a difficult decision to make with economic hardship weighing heavily mind, and his livelihood on the brink. In desperation, he agrees to a lucrative but risky job for a local businessman transporting illegal immigrants from China into the country. He and his crew collect their cargo without a hitch, but events take a turn for the substantially worse when a terrible accident throws into the balance the lives of everyone on board. Bong is known for character-driven genre films and this screenplay is no exception with the motley crew the focus of the opening act and each given time to craft individuals.

The captain may be primarily surly, but there's a more to his brooding than a mere single dimension. Elsewhere, Park Yoo-chun performs well as the newest addition to the boat, Dong-sik, and his flowering romance with one of the stowaways (Han Ye-ri) provides the films delicately handled heartbeat. There's also humour - suitably wacky in parts- to be found amongst these assorted sailors and their bickering and misbehaviour. Where Haemoo lets itself down is its descent into familiar action territory during the closing stages. Tension is painstakingly built over the first two thirds of the film and it does a sterling job of hiding its hand until the perfect moment. The frayed nerves finally snap, however, and the atmosphere briskly dissipates in favour of frustratingly unoriginal blood-letting that abandons the fine groundwork laid before it. Shim directs well, but he lacks the verve for this to sail through on its visuals and although the denouement returns to the unconventional (discounting the unnecessary coda), the climax reduces the impact of what was otherwise an enthralling voyage.

The Toronto International Film Festival takes place from 4-14 September 2014. For more coverage, follow this link.

Ben Nicholson


HAEMOO Review | TIFF 2014



There are few countries in the world cranking out films with the consistency of quality of South Korea. Over the last fifteen years, filmmakers like Chan-wook Park (Old Boy), Jee-woon Kim (I Saw The Devil), Joon-Ho Bong (Snowpiercer), and others have turned the country into one of the finest cinema factories in the global market. After Haemoo, a new name can be added to the list in Sung-Bo Shim. Well, even though he’s new to directing, he’s not really new to this world having previously worked as Bong’s screenwriting partner (Bong also serves as producer here). Yet, for any director to deliver a project as moving, thrilling, unpredictable, morally complex, and just plain entertaining as Haemoo with one swing of the bat is still a remarkable achievement. Haemoo is a wonderful piece of work and yet another reason why South Korea has fast become one of the great movie centers on the planet. Hit the jump to find out why.

Despite coming from a background in genre film as a screenwriter, Haemoo clings to no tropes or established thrills. Instead it tells a contemporary tale, with all of the action, emotion, and drama of some of the most heightened Korean genre films. Reduced to its most basic element, Haemoo is a movie about a boat. More specifically, it’s about a fishing boat with an impoverished crew who agree to smuggle some illegal Chinese immigrants into South Korea out of desperation. It’s clearly a sketchy situation from the start, combining two separate collections of desperate lost souls into a claustrophobic setting and then waiting for things to go horrendously wrong. Inevitably that wrong happens, yet in such a shocking, dramatic, and movie-shifting manner that it would be unfair to get into specific details. Suffice to say the film quickly shifts out of mild swashbuckling and smuggling into something far more horrifying.


The plot comes ripped from a true story and while Sung-Bo Shim and his writing partner Joon-ho Bong are respectful to the material and careful to at least explain everyone’s motivations, it’s not a placid docudrama unafraid to embrace it’s genre elements. The film is a big wild ride, filled with the radical tonal shifts that Bong is known for. Haemoo can feel like a comedy in one scene, a romance in the next, and then turn into action movie moments later without ever coming across as tonally inconsistent. Shim is always steadily in control, with his eye aimed on eventual tragedy. The way the co-writer/director shifts his film on a dime halfway through is an undeniably impressive bit of storytelling. The shock effect is undeniable, and the sudden transformation into a deeply dark thriller from that point on (and does it between characters whom we’ve come to embrace) elevates the movie instantly. Shim may never have stepped behind the camera before, but he already has a gift for subverting expectations and manipulating conventions without ever sacrificing the reality of the piece.

He’s also a more than capable visual stylized, creating some beautiful imagery out of a single cramped location and easily weaving between well over a dozen characters through perpetually moving cameras without a moment of confusion. His film walks a delicate line between visceral cinematic thrills and complex emotional trauma, yet never seems to struggle at balancing the two. It’s a remarkably effective debut and if my description of precisely why seems vague, that’s purely because it deserves to be experienced through unfamiliar eyes. That’s when you’re putty in Shim’s hands and by the time he’s done, you’ll stumble out of the theater an emotional wreck. But at least you’ll know you’ve seen something special, vital, and of the moment. Hopefully Shim will be just as productive a filmmaker as his preceding countrymen, because he already added a welcome and fresh flavor to the South Korean cinematic stew. 

Grade A-



TIFF Review: Korean Thriller 'Haemoo' Co-Written By 'Snowpiercer' Director Bong Joon-Ho

by Nikola Grozdanovic
September 5, 2014 4:58 PM

Haemoo, Shim Sung-bo,

South Korean cinema has a special way of smacking you upside the head as soon as you settle in and feel like you’ve gotten a grip on its characters and the story’s direction. Take a look at any of the most popular films out there, particularly from internationally renowned masters Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook, and you’ll see what we’re talking about. This year, a single South Korean film, directed by relatively unknown Shim Sung-bo, found its way into TIFF’s prestigious Gala program (usually reserved for the glitziest star-filled movies of the season). In fact, it’s Shim’s debut feature as a director, with only a couple of writing credits under his belt. So how did “Haemoo” end up sailing its way into the significant international waters of Toronto, exactly? Having Bong producing and co-writing your project certainly helps, but making South Korean cinema still feel fresh and vital with its genre-swerving storytelling practically seals the deal. 

Set in 1998, during the aftermath from the IMF financial crisis of 1997, “Haemoo” follows a ragtag trawler crew, scraping to survive as fishermen in economically desolate times. Captain Kang (Kim Yoon-seok) is the kind of man who considers his rusty, old and half-broken ship ‘Junjin’ a family member, stubbornly ignoring everyone’s suggestions to do away with it. Meanwhile, when he comes back home and catches his cheating wife in the middle of the act, he merely express his annoyance with a tiresome sigh. With a five-man crew under his leadership, including a wise old engineer who comically hides from debt collectors, and 26-year-old Dong-sik (Park Yu-chun) who prides himself in being a sailor, the walls are closing in on Kang because there’s no catch big enough to fish his way out of the financial woes that are drowning him and his brothers-at-sea. With his back up against it, Kang sees no way out other than to accept an illegal smuggling job from a local shyster known for transporting contraband from China. The cargo? Chino-Korean immigrants. 

The unraveling of the plot begins when one of the immigrants, Hong-mae (Han Ye-ri), accidentally falls into the water mid-transfer. After a second’s hesitation, Dong-sik jumps into the water and saves her, silently vowing, it seems, to be her protector from there on out. Meanwhile, at the sight of two women among the frightened and confused group, Kang mumbles to himself how having women on board his ship is bad luck. Yet, even with these ominous signs and foreshadowing, including a near-fatal incident in the opening sequence of the film, nothing truly prepares the audience for what Bong and Shim have in store once the sea fog (the literal translation of ‘Haemoo’) sets in. Adventure, action, romance, horror and comedy of the darkest kind reign simultaneously once the shocking incident occurs. To reveal this incident would spoil the gumption shown by the filmmakers, but suffice it to say that "Haemoo" becomes an all-together different kind of beast. For better, and for worse.

Never in a million years would someone be able to watch this film for the first time and guess that it’s a debut feature. So assured is the direction, so purposeful is the camera that frenetically follows the characters on the boat, so optimally bleak are the wide shots of the isolated ship, aimlessly stuck between the darkness of the ocean and the darkness of the thundering skies above. The cinematographer Hong Kyeong-pyo truly deserves accolades for imbuing the picture with a ghostlike atmosphere that makes any Tim Burton picture look like a Skittles commercial. Add to this the character of the ship itself, thanks to the screenplay’s intelligent scattering of episodes across various locations on the vessel, and you’ve got yourself a picture of truly epic dimensions. Bong Joon-ho’s influence is felt from rhapsodic start to somber finish, and it’s clear that the two men have built a good working foundation from their first collaboration, Bong’s brilliant “Memories of Murder,” which Shim co-wrote. Mind you, once the titular fog envelops the ship and all the hearts and minds on board along with it, the tone of the film obscures any genuine attributes these characters may have possessed in the first half of the film. 

About two-thirds in, a realization creeps in that this is a carefully crafted story with characters that can only exist in fiction. The effect is one of dispelled movie magic, not unlike Bong’s recent “Snowpiercer”. People begin to lose their minds, and human desires flare up, in comically nightmarish fashion that’s much too quick to properly absorb and admire. This unwelcome feeling still doesn’t stop one from enjoying the devilish fun when one of the crew members calms everyone down by saying “we are all in the same boat. Literally!” The performances from the three leads, Kim in particular relishing his role with subtle viciousness similar to Humphrey Bogart in “Treasure of Sierra Madre”, also anchor the film so that it doesn’t get too lost in the tonal twists and turns. And once the fog clears, despite the questionable pace along the way, Shim has much to be proud of. 

South Korea’s peculiar brand of cinema is doubtlessly thrilling when done right. Similarly though, it can tip the genre scales a little too forcefully at times, making for a nauseous ride. "Haemoo" is bit of mixed bag in that sense, and a certain time-jumping decision at the end will leave many international audiences scratching their heads, while it may very well resonate with a more understanding South Korean crowd. In any case, "Haemoo" is a picture worth seeing for its thrills, scrupulous tension-building and mischievous genre twists that will have you gasping one second, and laughing the next. 



Dir/scr: Shim Sung-bo. South Korea. 2014. 111mins

Produced and co-written by one of Korea’s most prolific filmmakers Bong Joon Ho, Haemoo is a bleak but superbly orchestrated character-driven feature based on a true story that was made into a stage play about a group of fishermen who smuggle 25 Chinese-Korean immigrants aboard their boat that ends in bitter tragedy.
Cinematographer Hong Kyeong-pyo again further demonstrates his wealth of talent at capturing the limited space, while the exterior shots provide a beautiful yet an eerie backdrop.
The film’s dark narrative appears to have been too grim for local audiences given its rather disappointing theatrical run generating an underwhelming $11.4m for a high profile summer release. But, this engrossing feature directed by debut director Shim Sung-bo who also co-wrote Bong Joon Ho’s widely acclaimed Memories Of Murder is set to be warmly embraced overseas following its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival where audiences will be treated to what is arguably Korea’s strongest commercial film so far this year.

Beginning at sea, the film introduces the different members of the fishing boat crew as they carry out their duties with careful attention paid to the vessel’s interior and exterior structure, while Shim with the aid of the film’s cinematographer Hong Kyeong-pyo also beautifully captures the sea fog - otherwise known as Haemoo in Korean - that encircles the boat.

Once the boat returns to port with a meager catch, the captain (Kim Yoon-seok) is handed a wad of cash in exchange for his and the crew services in smuggling 25 Chinese-Koreans on board the boat. Things take a sour turn when tragedy strikes the illegal immigrants, which turns the already volatile captain into a monstrous individual, while the crew struggle to come to terms with what has happened.

Amongst the crew is also a young man (Park Yu-chun) who develops a relationship with one of the immigrants (played by Han Ye-ri) and seeks to protect her from the increasingly unstable members of his crew.

It’s tempting to see this film as a Bong Joon Ho feature as exemplified through the film’s well-crafted characters, dark tone and the expertly delivered mise-en-scène, but its lack of dark humour coupled with its venture into genre territory in the final hour reveals Shim’s tangible direction.

Comparisons to Snowpiercer are inevitable given Hong’s role in both films as the cinematographer along with the fact that both films take place in a confined space as Hong again further demonstrates his wealth of talent at capturing the limited space, while the exterior shots provide a beautiful yet an eerie backdrop.

Kim Yoon-seok (Hwayi: A Monster Boy) who is no stranger playing villainous and morally ambiguous roles is the ideal actor playing the crazed captain taking his character as far as one could go, but it’s the younger members of the crew that tend to shine. Park Yu-chun is another example of a K-pop star who can successfully stretch his talent to take on challenging acting roles while Han Ye-ri is especially impressive portraying the young Chinese-Korean.

Haemoo may have struggled to achieve the level of domestic success that other Korean blockbusters such a box office smash hit Roaring Currents have achieved this summer, but its international potential along with the overall quality of the film should help offset any disappointment with its domestic performance. 


TIFF 2014: Haemoo

TIFF 2014: Haemoo film still

Bong Joon-ho sets sail with a human trafficking thriller on the high seas.
A devious film about desperate people, Shim Sung-Bo’s Haemoo absolutely drips with the conviction that has made contemporary Korean pop cinema such a source of international excitement. A waterlogged morality play in the guise of a breathless thriller, Shim’s film, like the best of those directed by his co-writer Bong Joon-ho (here returning the favor for Shim’s contributions to the script for Memories of Murder), is a perfect storm of disparate tones and genres.

Assimilating influences as diverse as Sunshine, Southern Comfort, and The Caine Mutiny into its sea bound story of human trafficking, Haemoo is ultimately so gripping because of how Shim is able to bend the film’s myriad modes into a bold and singularly lucid portrait of the unraveling male id.

Shim drops anchor in the fall of 1998, Haemoo opening on the docks of a brittle fishing village; the Gloucester, Massachusetts of blue-collar Korea. The film never deviates from the presentness of its characters to explain why its set in the past, but the period choice is a pointedly curious one for a film that isn’t beholden to a true-life story, and a cleverly roundabout way of foregrounding the shadow of the Asian Financial Crisis. Kang (Kim Yoon-seok) is the gruff and barnacled captain of a local fishing boat, and the pinch is already starting to chip away at his livelihood and his manhood, alike. His boat is old and in desperate need of repair. His wife is having sex with another man, and can’t even be bothered to apologize when Kang catches her in the act. Kang is dangling at the end of his line, and there’s blood in the water. This is exactly what it looks like just before decent men are tempted to do bad things. For Kang, the opportunity comes in the form of human cargo, a few dozen Korean-Chinese immigrants that he and his crew are paid to receive in open waters and then illegally return to Korean soil. It’s an offer he can’t refuse.

So it’s off to a quick and dirty bit of Seven Samurai-style team-building as Kang assembles his crew, a ragtag group of men who share a believable familiarity if not an especially intimate bond. The deckhands run the gamut from the naive young Dong-sik (K-pop star Park Yu-chun) to a variety of more grizzled types whose ranks include a father figure, a horndog, and a kindly engineer. The script provides just enough rope for the immaculately cast actors to deviate from their archetypes and create the kind of messy dynamics that are riveting to watch disintegrate.

Things go awry almost immediately. A young migrant named Hong-mae (Han Ye-ri) falls overboard when trying to make the jump onto Kang’s ship, and almost drowns before Dong-sik can rescue her from the sea. The two kids soon begin a primitive romance in the ship’s dank engine room, but it isn’t long before the situation goes completely FUBAR. Mistakes are made, lives are lost, and bodies are dismembered.

The madness may never be quite as overboard as it is in the films that Bong has directed, but Haemoo nevertheless bears his stamp. Without diminishing the deftness of Shim’s direction (in particular how effectively he familiarizes viewers with the layout of Kang’s ship so that he can better exploit the geography during the film’s hectic third act), Haemoo is only elevated to something more than a high-wire exercise because of how convincingly the script pushes its characters down their slippery slopes. From Oldboy to Bittersweet Life and Bong’s own Mother, the pop films of the Korean New Wave that have achieved international success have done so by mastering this delicate transition, dropping their depravity in a familiar place and making sure that audiences can always swallow the story hook, line, and sinker. As Kang’s crew finds themselves in a truly unfortunate human trafficking jam (the details of which are shocking, and must remain unspoiled), the crisis builds in ways both organic and horrifying, the events wild but fundamentally believable. A post-apocalyptic pall eventually builds over the film as things get more dire, compromise giving way to compromise until there’s nothing left of these men but their bodies.

Time will tell if Shim is a director on par with his co-writer (and / or if he’s lured away by Hollywood to helm the inevitable remake), but Haemoo is an exceptionally promising start. It’s a thrillingly shot survival movie that dovetails with a sneakily sophisticated lament, the film is at its best when things are at their worst. Kang doesn’t need a bigger boat, he just needs a better one. Once the ship starts to break down, there’s no piecing it back together.


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JYJ CAFFEINE: YuChun's Sea Fog (HaeMoo) Reviews (Updated)

[Herald Review] Under the ocean, ugliest side of human desire

Drama ‘Sea Fog’ centers on true story behind the Taechangho incident

Published : 2014-08-17 20:57
Updated : 2014-08-17 20:57 

Moviegoers have seen quite a lot of the sea this summer, as ocean-themed films filled the silver screen.

Period action flick “Roaring Currents” showed Adm. Yi Sun-sin’s historic victory, while comedy action flick “The Pirates” depicted imaginary and colorful pirates in search of a whale that swallowed the Joseon royal seal.

Nothing like the first two films, “Sea Fog” presents a grim but realistic look at the ocean, depicting human greed lying under the surface.

“Through the life of six crew members of Jeonjinho (the name of the vessel in the film, translated as ‘to advance’) and Chinese migrants, I wanted to illustrate a blended microcosm of our real life into the film,” director Shim Sung-bo said at the film’s press premiere. “This is not a suspense or a thriller. It is a film about humans’ inborn desires, loneliness and ambiguity.”

Scenes from the drama “Sea Fog” (NEW)

The film, set during 1998 during the Asian financial crisis that put thousands of Korean people out of work, forecasts a gloomy outlook as it is adapted from a theatrical performance of “Haemoo” (Korean translation of sea fog) based on a less publicly known tragedy that occurred in 2001.

The Taechangho incident occurred when 25 illegal Chinese immigrants were allegedly dumped at sea by Korean ship crew members, after being suffocated to death inside the ship’s fish storage compartment to hide from the maritime police. The people who suffocated were among 60 Chinese and ethnic Korean-Chinese migrants being smuggled across the border on the Korean vessel Taechangho.

The film follows the basic plot of the accident in detail, piecing together the fictional truth and some of motives behind the ship crew’s action to dispose the bodies.

The film’s realistic portrayal of the accident continues the unique style of Bong Joon-ho, who has painted social realism onto his previous films such as “The Host,” “Memories of Murder” and “Snowpiercer.”

But this time, “Snowpiercer” director Bong takes a different position. He is the executive producer as his “Memories of Murder” cowriter Shim makes his directorial debut. 

Scenes from the drama “Sea Fog”

Bong’s emphasis on taking visually thrilling stories to reflect true humanist details on a visceral level matches detailed storyteller Shim’s discussion of what is under human desire, especially when faced with disaster.

The accident says it all, but it is quite difficult to pinpoint who is at fault for the tragedy in the first place.

The crew members were left with a series of tough choices and they made questionable decisions based on each person’s desire.

Therefore, this film is not geared to judge evil from good or wrong from right. Rather, it illustrates that there is no definite good or evil, and that duplicity and human nature are affected by the environment.

Ironically, the viewers are left with questions of what they would have done if they were in the crewmembers’ shoes. Some might even be able to sympathize with them.

The Jeonjinho leaves the docks hoping to return with a full load of fish only to end up burdened by the weight of human desires.

For captain Cheol-joo, played by Kim Yoon-shik, the Jeonjinho is all he has. Once a dominant fishing vessel in Yeosu, this old vessel lost its worth as the crew failed to catch fish. Cheol-joo plots to make money by trafficking in people rather than selling the ship for its scrap value.

He cries out “Inside this vessel, I am the president,” he tells Chinese stowaways who refuse to go inside the fish storage area. He disposes of dead bodies without any reserve to prevent possible scrutiny.

Unlike Cheol-joo, Wan-ho (Moon Sung-keun), the ship’s engineer who values morality and conscience, is the most sympathetic character in the film. When his morals are tested, he can no longer live normally.

Dong-sik, the youngest of six crew members, played by singer-turned-actor Park Yoo-chun, seems to be the most innocent and strongest character.

He immediately falls for Korean-Chinese migrant Hong-mae (Han Ye-ri), the only girl left on the ship. When Hong-mae becomes the source of the conflict, Dong-sik does everything to protect her. Dong-sik is genuine and less tainted than other older crew members. He values love and humanity even in harrowing circumstances.

As each crew member represents a mutually different desire ranging from social status, sexual desire, money, to love and even morality, the film simply deals with the theme of desire which causes woes for the humankind.

It is not sea fog that dashes the dreams of Chinese stowaways and Korean crew members. It was the ugly side of human desire that destroys everything, leaving few traces behind.

By Ahn Sung-mi (

 'Sea Fog' peaking high ranking on movie ticket reservation website'

'Sea Fog' is rising hot.
Movie 'Sea Fog' was officially released on August 13th, and it is peaking high rankings on movie ticket reservation websites.

According to database from website 'Max Movie,' 'Sea Fog' 62% of the audiences are female, and this sales volume is much higher than that of 'Roaring Currents,' and 'The Pirates.' Many ladies are showing particularly great reactions for 'Sea Fog' not only because it includes lots of thrilling and suspenseful scenes, but also because it includes heartfelt romance.

This sales volume is more outstanding than any other films of this season, because this is the only 'adults only' rated film.

In addition, according to another website's database, 'Sea Fog' received over 130 thousand mentions on various websites and SNS during last two months, which is way ahead of that of 'Roaring Currents,' and 'The Pirates.'

Meanwhile, 'Sea Fog is a movie about crews of a 69-ton fishing vessel Jeonjinho going through a series of troubles while trying to smuggle 30 illegal immigrants into Korea to earn more money.

/Reporting by Noh I-seul

Review: Bleak And Gripping, HAEMOO Prizes Character Over Spectacle


By Pierce Conran

To date, the summer of 2014 has seen the majority of mainstream Korean films fall into either of two categories: the noir thriller or the period blockbuster. While a handful of terrific genre pieces, namely A Hard Day and Confession, have succeeded in spite of this inertia, it's been high time for something a little different. Along comes Haemoo, a character-driven blockbuster set on a boat that is based on a play which is itself drawn from a real life incident.

A fishing trawler returns to port with a meager catch and when its captain is offered a pile of money to help some Chinese-Korean illegal immigrants sneak onto the peninsula he is quick to pocket the cash. He heads back out to sea along with his five-man crew and in the dead of night they make contact with another vessel carrying their payday. Soon the youngest crewmember forms an attachment with one of the smuggled girls, but as tensions between the crew and their passengers mount and when the Korean maritime police suddenly appear, things quickly spin out of control.You can often count on Korean cinema to take a familiar setting and turn it on its head. Sea Fog brings other open sea blockbusters such as Jaws (1975) and The Perfect Storm (2000) to mind, but it is a great deal darker than what you would expect from commercial cinema, particularly a blockbuster of this size (at least by Korean standards). First time director Shim Sung-bo and his co-writer and executive producer Bong Joon Ho deliver a film that is as somber as the latter's recentSnowpiercer. But with a far more realistic setting and less of Bong's trademark wry humor, Haemoo
 packs a thunderous emotional whallop.


Much like Bong was confronted with when shooting an ambitious film within the limitations of a train, Shim and cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo (also the DP onSnowpiercer) are tasked with running the audience through a gauntlet of thrills and emotions within the confines of a small fishing boat. The brooding weather, which veers from stark daylight and ominous night to thick batches of creeping fog, ably amplifies the foreboding tone of the film. Equally impressive is the claustrophobic interior lensing. Every shot is permeated with a dank warmth that acts as a refuge from the literal and figurative tempests that take place on deck before turning the space into an oppressive tangle of burning pipes offering no exit from the encroaching terror. Throughout, the fluidity between shots, which evolve as actors move within or in and out of frame with clear precision, makes the film's visual tone rich and expressive.Haemoo, which secured a choice mid-August release date, is presented as a summer blockbuster, but it is far more concerned with characters than visual spectacle. While the film is expertly made, all its visual thrills are present to serve the characters and their complexly interwoven moral trajectories. But a sagacious mise-en-scene can only get you so far. Thankfully, the film's greatest strength lies in its cast.

Most familiar to viewers will be Kim Yun-seok, whose droopy, yet keen eyes have brought some of the most fearsome characters in modern Korean cinema to life. His turn here recalls his roles in The Yellow Sea (2011) and Hwayi: A Monster Boy
, both for its commanding presence and ruthless practicality. In a position of authority and placed in a horrifying situation, Kim's Captain is a man who makes quick decisions and follows through at all costs.


Park Yoochun, a member of the Kpop group JYJ, convinces in his first major film outing as the youngest crewmember. He and Han Ye-ri, a rising star who does her best work to date, serve as the emotional core of the film. Theirs is an unlikely romance, but the young thespians sell it by avoiding histrionics in favor of soft palpitations and pellucid expressions. As the remaining members of the crew, veterans Moon Sung-geun, Kim Sang-ho, Lee Hee-joon and Yoo Seung-mok each manage to turn their gruff fisherman into unique and complex individuals.

Haemoo explores some bleak territory and considering its setting and plot, unfortunate but inevitable similarities with the recent Sewol Ferry Sinking do arise. Given how fresh a memory that is and how powerful a film this is, it may act as a painful reminder to some. It remains to be seen whether this affects the film's eventual returns, but it doesn't make the film any less compelling.

The only place where Haemoo stumbles is in its final reel. By rehashing a few well-worn genre tropes and temporarily abandoning its engaging character arcs, it feels as though the production is ticking a few boxes that its big budget requires it to. However, the film does still end on a strong note. As dark and daring a blockbuster as they come, Haemoo is a terrific summer tentpole, and one like no other.


Source: Modern Korean Cinema