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South Korea 2005

Action, Thriller

Kwak Kyung-taek

Jang Dong-gun
Lee Jung-Jae
Lee Mi-yeon
Chatthapong Pantanaunkul
David No
Heo Wook
David Lee McInnis

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Story: Together with a group of thai pirates terrorist Sin (Jang Dong-gun) captures a containership on which highly dangerous radioactive material is stored and takes it into his possession. The Korean government finds out about this incident and sends one of its best man, navy official Kang Se-jong (Lee Jung-Jae), to learn about Sin's motive and plans. Kang discovers that Sin is a North Korean, who in the beginning of the 80s wanted to flee to South Korea over Chinese borders. However, he wasn't granted asylum and so he lost his family during a bloodbath by the hands of the North Koreans. Now, he has sworn to take revenge on North and South Korea and wants to annihilate the Korean peninsula with a terrorist act. Sin has a sister, though, who he was seperated from as a child and is searching for since that day. Kang Se-jong manages to find the girl Myeong-ju (Lee Mi-yeon) before him and tries to use her as leverage against the terrorist. Nevertheless, Sin still has an ace up his sleeve and upsets Kang's plan. Even though Kang slowly starts to understand the motives of the terrorist he has no other choice but to take down Sin for good.

Review: "Typhoon" is big-budget entertainmant of its finest. With its 15 million dollar budget it is the most expensive movie out of Korea to date, yet it flopped at the box-office. And this even though we are presented with the familiar North/South Korea conflict in an almost international fashion here. The reasons for the lack of success are manifold. Director Kwak Kyung-taek, who is responsible for the successful film "Friend", once more underlines with this work that he is one of Korea's most overrated moviemakers. "Typhoon", as you can already see in the story summary, is a simple thriller that borrows too much of its american colleagues and thus oftentimes delivers loud action only to go for some more quiet tunes in the film's core. As not to be expected otherwise, this concept doesn't work out in the end. Especially not since the drama isn't really captivating at any time. That's also the fault of the bad character drawings that make the different individuals look like blank sheets.

Kwak's action thriller has been shot in Korea, Thailand and Russia, therefore it doesn't only have a multi-cultural coloration, but also demands quite some reading achievement by Korean viewers, as the dialogues are in different languages, from English and Thai, to Russian and German, and naturally (almost) everything has been subtitled. You will also see an unusually big amount of foreign actors, although not a single one of them gets more than five seconds of screentime. For a thriller of this kind many different locations are extremely important, of course, but with his focus on that the director often loses track of what's truely important. He has no time to take care of the actual characters. Especially Lee Jung-Jae ("Il Mare") remains so incredibly shallow and his facial expression so wooden that even Steven Seagal could have taken on his role. Of course this still could have been fun in a way if "Typhoon" would be a real action-thriller but with all the drama being shifted to the focus on several occasions, this unnecessarily drags the film down.

Jang Dong-gun, who has already taken on the main role in "Taegukgi" and Kwak's "Friend", surely tries to squeeze out more of his role than what the script provides him with, but he eventually has to fail. Jang without a doubt is a charismatic actor and during a few moments he even manages to make us sympathize for him, something the actual hero of the story doesn't do at any point. But he still doesn't look three-dimensional so that we can't understand some of his decisions in the end. The only moment we can truely suffer along with him is when he finally meets his sister again. In that scene Jang as well as Lee Mi-yeon can show some of their acting abilities and for the first time the viewer is emotionally involved in the events the way it should have been during the whole film. But even if this might be one of the best scenes in the movie it still doesn't fit into the overall picture. The pacing suddenly drops immensely during the more emotional middle part and arouses the feeling of watching two different movies.

A fast pacing, shootouts, chasing scenes, we get all that in "Typhoon", at the same time, though, the film more and more falls into emotional scenes that won't fit into the rest of the movie. This becomes especially apparent during the scene that gives us a flashback into the past. A nice dramatic story about Sin and his sister, but integrated into the movie in a too bumpy fashion. It's the same later on. Kang learns to understand his enemy and the other way around, yes in another life they even could be friends or brothers etc. We've heard all of that already but most importantly this premise lacks any real depth. We don't see any spiritual connection between the two. Therefore, the lavish showdown also doesn't seem so dramatic as it was most likely intended to be. Even though the film oftentimes successfully blurs the border between good and evil it lacks the sensitiveness to give the often used theme of a seperated nation's conflict some new facets. Even on the contrary, at some points we get phrases so full of patriotism that we believe to watch a commercial for the navy or a propaganda film.

There are without a doubt some nice action scenes, yet the soundtrack is everything but imposing enough to let you bestow anything more than the adjective "nice" upon the film. Apart from that the one responsible for the editing didn't seem to know what he is doing as was the scriptwriter. There are some strange jumps between the scenes which give the movie an unprofessional look. As already said, the actors aren't really facing a great challenge either maybe apart from the different languages they have to speak. The movie's core, which is the inner conflict between one and the same nation, whose different sides are depicted by the two main actors, has some serious flaws and the drama towards the end looks like an artificial insertion left to the last minute. Therefore, and you can try to put lipstick on the pig as much you want, everything that remains in the end is a big disappointment as "Typhoon" can't really score in any area. Especially the fact that there was supposed to be some focus on the drama, which is where the film undoubtfully fails, should make Kwak finally wonder about his scriptwriting skills and maybe leave this job to someone who knows his craft the next time.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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