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Haeundae

Year: 2009
Production Co: Polygon Entertainment
Director: Je-gyun Yun
Writer: Je-gyun Yun

Even if the middle of an action, adventure or thriller film from Bollywood they'll break out into a kitschy boy-meets-girl song and dance routine and you'll think you've stumbled into the wrong movie.

In the same way, Korean cinema has a particular comic flavour, and even in this story of a hundred metre tall tsunami bearing down on a South Korean holiday resort city, there are moments of bumbling comedy and snarky comic scripting. One of the biggest set pieces - a container ship that's been left standing on its end, jammed against a road bridge before erupting in a spectacular explosion - is the result of the goofy clown character throwing an errant cigarette.

There's also a tendency away from subtlety when it comes to the characters' reactions to tragedy. Being a disaster movie there's plenty of fear and death, and director Yun revels in close-ups of the people left behind engaged in ear-splitting screams of sadness and gales of tears for long, excruciating moments.

An estranged couple, a couple on the cusp of a relationship, an overbearing mother who runs an Oceanside restaurant and graft between local politicians and businessmen to redevelop the exclusive beachside enclave form the backdrop as scientists become increasingly worried about deep sea earthquakes in the sea halfway to Japan.

The hero is the scientist convinced the coast could be in for a bigger tsunami than the devastating Boxing Day 2004 event. His wife's in town and their relations are polite but icy.

We also follow around a good natured but doltish sea rescue worker and the crazed girl who seems to be stalking him for a date and the fisherman trying to capture the heart of a local girl, and while it's all cute it's padding for the big event.

Even though the wave and destruction sequence is cool there's an inherent problem in that you can't show a huge wave destroying a city for an hour and a half. You need characters to give it context, but where's the balance between seeing people go about their lives and watching huge cities being swept away by CGI? The film could have found it by crafting escape and aftermath sequences that were more fun, such as in Hard Rain, an opportunity it mostly wastes in preference for more characterisation.

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