Story: In Haeundae, a holiday resort that is part of the port town Busan, a gigantic shopping mall is soon about to be build. But the deal
isn't signed yet and the residents, among them Man-shik (Sol Kyung-gu), are fighting against this project. Man-shik doesn't only have to take care
of his little son but also of the now grown-up girl Yeon-hee (Ha Ji-won) since he promised her father to do so when he was dying. Divorced
Man-shik doesn't realize that Yeon-hee is interested in him, though, while his brother Hyeong-shik (Lee Min-gi) somehow ends up in a relationship with
the city girl Hee-mi (Kang Ye-won) which costs him a lot of stength.
One day the geologist Kim Hwi (Park Joong-hoon) finds out that his worst fears might come true. Something is brewing at Korea's shore and Hwi fears that a mega-tsunami might raze the whole coastal area to the ground. But no one believes him, not even his ex-wife Yu-jin (Eom Jeong-hwa) who suddenly enters his life again. When it is too late and a giant wave is heading for Haeundae everyone is on his own...
Review: Every now and then Asia tries to go toe to toe with Hollywood's disaster movies. Normally, this is Japan's specialty but this time
South Korea shows that it can mount an international blockbuster production as well. The ambitious work has many popular actors in its lead roles
and offers enough special effects that should please fans of the genre. Cinematically "Haeundae" is no suprise, though. Besides the special effects
the movie stands out with oftentimes corny drama that is still well-meant and at some points even works out. Nonetheless, the exposition is a bit
too elaborately drawn and the actual disaster almost too shortly to be seen on screen. However, it has to be stated that for this review the 17
minutes longer version of the movie has been watched and not the international version in which the ratio between exposition and special effects should
be almost equal. But if that really makes the film better also remains questionable. Fact is that "Haeundae" is simply for those who can't get
enough of disaster movies.
The biggest point of criticism is probably the unbelievable contrast in the mood of the film. At the beginning the characters are introduced in a humorous way and it is apparent at any time that Haeundae is a holiday resort. The humor is crossing the line to slapstick at many points, however, and therefore reaches the level of bad taste. If those were the scenes that had been cut out of the international version then this would in a certain way really raise the overall quality of the movie. Because as it is we often have to roll our eyes about what we get to see. Even at the beginning this sort of humor doesn't quite fit into the movie because as a disaster flick you can't expect anything else than that everything is going down the drain in the end (no pun intenteded...) leading to a few characters not surviving until the credits roll. So what's the reason for the childish romance inserted, especially that with Kang Ye-won who could show a lot better side of her in "Harmony"!?
Actually you shouldn't even start talking about the actors. Because it really is a shame. Sol Kyung-gu, who could prove his acting expertise in movies like "Peppermint Candy", "Oasis" or "Rikidozan" is degraded to nothing more than a better supporting character, if anything at all. Ha Ji-won ("Miracle of Giving Fool", "Love so Divine") can only convince during those moments tears are running down her cheeks and Park Joong-hoon ("Nowhere to Hide", "Heaven's Soldiers") does only play a two-dimensional role as well. Well, since he already played in a few american B-movies he probably has done worse. Eom Jeong-hwa ("Princess Aurora", "For Horowitz") marks the last one of an incredibly unchallenged ensemble. Yes, the movie takes its time to introduce the characters and that's a good thing, it's just that it would have been nice if those characters had gotten more plasticity. The way it is we even know during the introduction that all of the characters are introduced so elaborately in order to make the arc of suspense work out towards the end.
If at least this would have worked out... But no, in fact we only care little about who survives and who doesn't. "Haeundae" is a film that is loud and full of special effects, that is the reason why even at the beginning when there is even no disaster in sight and actually nothing is really happening at all things are pretty loud. When the wave finally hits Haeundae the viewer is even thinking "Finally!", because to be honest, isn't this just the reason why we watch such movies? And the special effects surely don't need to hide. There are also a few nice ideas but some of them could have been fleshed out a bit more. That is since the way the individual characters get closer to each other during the disaster is getting a bit of a raw deal and that's strange. Maybe there had to be some money saved concerning the budget and therefore showing the sets of disaster could only be done as long as necessary? That the story of such a movie is told in a few words shouldn't surprise anyone, to focus on the character exploration is thus a wise decision. But you should achieve more than just a well-meant attempt of delivering that...
Still, you shouldn't expect a lot more because on director Yun Je-gyun's list of movies are titles like "Sex is Zero" (which would explain the sometimes awkward humor) and "Miracle on 1st Street" whereas latter is probably his best film to date. Nonetheless, Yun has had quite some commercial success with his movies and it has been the same with "Haeundae" which managed to reach similar ticket sales as "The Host" or "Taegukgi". Concerning the cinematic quality the movie is far behind such works, though. However, the general public simply loves such works where you can be in awe of the action and special effects. What do you need a story for then? Michael Bay is making movies according to this formula for almost two decades already and no one is saying anything against it! Well, I would have a few words to say and in the case of "Haeundae" I will. If the film actually had been able to create three-dimensional characters in its introduction the result would have been a worthwhile disaster flick. As it is this is meaningless popcorn entertainment that is soon forgotten.