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