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Sol Kyung-Gu, left, plays a guilt-ridden fisherman in Haeundae.
Sol Kyung-Gu, left, plays a guilt-ridden fisherman in Haeundae.

By the time disaster strikes, you welcome it Add to ...

  • Country USA
  • Language English

Haeundae

  • Directed and written by Yun Je-Gyun
  • Starring Sol Kyung-Go and Ha Ji-Won
  • Classification: 14A

In most natural-disaster flicks, the people are a lot more dysfunctional than the planet. Typically, the good Earth quakes but once or twice, and politely contains its anger until near the movie's end. By contrast, the characters tend to be perpetual screw-ups, hogging long swathes of screen time while we get to know them and their messy lives- the quarrelling lovers, divorcing couples, vulnerable kids and sundry other flawed types. Obviously, this is a strategy to humanize the potential victims and give us a reason to care about their eventual fate. It seldom works. Mainly, we just await the approaching disaster with impatient enthusiasm, hoping it offers us sufficient bang for our entertainment buck. In this genre, the last act is always God's act, and our expectations are high. He had better come up with the goods.

Intent on being Korea's answer to the Hollywood blockbuster, Haeundae boasts a relatively fat budget and an even fatter ambition - to take these disaster flick conventions and inflate them to barrage-balloon proportions. Yes, hot air is required, and what better source than melodrama. So, at the seaside resort of Haeundae, brace yourself - not for the coming tsunami but for the sudsy flood of tormented characters. They're here, they're there, they're everywhere, the disaster before the disaster.

Consider merely the short list: You've got the token scientist who, when not having his seismographic warnings go unheeded, is getting berated by his estranged wife and ignored by his young daughter. And there's the hot co-ed on holiday from Seoul and slumming with a local lifeguard, who happens to be the brother of a guilt-ridden fisherman, who happens to be in love with a woman whose father he accidentally killed on the high seas. Elsewhere, developers scheme and politicians inveigle and disappointed mothers shout at their lay-about sons, who shout back.

Optimists will be delighted to learn that some of this is pretty damned hilarious. Alas, on the glass-is-half-empty side, not much of it is meant to be funny. Nope, far as I can tell, director Yun Je-Gyun is out to stir up our fears. But it's our ears that take the brunt of the assault. Seems that the good citizens of Haeundae conduct every conversation, innocuous or not, at the level of a shriek. They yell, rant, rave, then yell louder, and the bloody big wave hasn't even hit yet. No wonder we root for the thing to show up fast, knowing that it's bound either to shut these folks up or to finally give them something worth shouting about.

Enough about the set-up. In a genre that turns us into eager rubber-neckers, only one question matters: Is God's ferocious act up to the mark, ensuring that disaster makes its entrance with a credible flourish of F/X? Well, to these heretical eyes, this computer-generated tsunami seemed an imperfect storm. Sure, skies darken, water rises, ships sink, buildings topple, bridges snap, and countless nobodies drown in an instant while recognizable somebodies struggle to stay afloat. However, when all is screamed and done, disaster's mimicry is only competent at best.

Far more convincing is Korea's imitation of Hollywood, especially Hollywood's love of the tragedy with a happy ending. In this case, of course, happiness is survival - the most buoyant take us to the buoyant ending. Then again, that assumes we care enough here to lament the dead and celebrate the living. I didn't. But I did manage to personally survive Haeundae , walking away badly bored yet otherwise unscathed and happy to issue this warning: You might not be so lucky.

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