Saturday, September 12, 2009

Haeundae, The Drowned World

Korea's first big-budget disaster movie, "Haeundae," opened in San Francisco at the Metreon multiplex on Friday, and most of the audience at the matinee consisted of former Industrial Light and Magic employees (above) who worked on the film for the Marin County film studio Polygon Entertainment.

Haeundae is the name of a huge beach resort which is part of the South Korean city Busan, where there are literally a million people on the beach every August.

The movie follows the Western disaster film formula of introducing over a dozen loosely related characters, including a trio of star-crossed lovers, before a "mega tsunami" hits the shore.

It opened in Korea in July where it was a "mega blockbuster." The movie is fascinating on all kinds of levels, especially for a foreign viewer where important class distinctions and inside jokes fly over one's head even though you can infer they exist.

Korean films tend to indulge in broad, slapstick physical comedy no matter what else is going on, and "Haeundae" is no exception. In the middle of serious scenes, characters would be slapping, punching, falling, and getting drunk, and the effect was bizarre and wonderful.

The young actors, some of them Korean pop stars, were directed to overemote and scream outrageously during their "Titanic" style dramatic disaster scenes, but that was fascinating too.

What really gives the film resonance is the memory of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which killed over 200,000 people throughout Asia. It's part of a flashback sequence in the movie, including scenes of people staring slack-jawed at TV screens throughout Korea when it was happening. Though the event doesn't have the local resonance of 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, it was a bigger disaster by many orders of magnitude.

The state-of-the-art tsunami special effects were created in the Bay Area, and they are extraordinary. I haven't been this thrilled by a mixture of campy drama and Grade A disaster since "Earthquake" appeared in Sensurround in the 1970s.

Carl Miller, Tony Hurd, Erik Krumrey and David Dranitzke (from left to right above) have every reason to be proud of their work.


Nancy Ewart said...

I love these types of disaster movies. I'll never forget watching a film festival of the "Godzilla stomps Tokyo" type movies at the Castro. We laughed, urged Godzilla on, ate popcorn and had a fabulous time. This movie sounds like its in the grand old tradition.

Civic Center said...

Dear Nancy: Jeez, try to be a little more culturally sensitive. Korea is not Japan nor is it China. It has its own weird pop culture that is unique.

And the genre of "Haeundae" is closer to "Earthquake" and "Day After Tomorrow" and legions of Irwin Allen disaster films than it is to Godzilla stomping all over Tokyo.

I think what was coolest about this movie was that it was shamelessly stealing from every old Hollywood disaster movie cliche while reinventing the genre with a disarming sincerity.

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