cast: Lee Mi-yeon, Jang Dong-kun, and Lee Jung-jae

director: Kwak Kyung-taek

108 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 16:9
Premier Asia DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Michael Bunning

Korean cinema is vibrant, surprising, inventive and entertaining. Classics such as OldboySympathy For Mr Vengeance, and Brotherhood have proved that Hollywood needs to try harder to impress in the action stakes; which makes it all the more baffling that Kwak Kyung-taek would ape American movie clichés so slavishly and with such mediocrity. If the writer-director of Typhoon (aka: Taepung) wanted to copy anyone, there’s a glut of domestic genius for him to pay homage to. Unfortunately he hasn’t, and what we have with Typhoon is an incredibly expensive, very slick, but ultimately very shallow film.

The main protagonist is Sin: a North Korean pirate who hijacks a ship bound for South Korea, which is laden with secret, US-funded weaponry. His plan is to swap the weaponry for a ship that’s full of nuclear waste, which he’s going to use to devastate the South Korean coast. Lest the viewer think that Sin is a bad sort, we’re treated to lots of lengthy backstory exposition. See, Sin’s family tried to get asylum in South Korea when we was young, and their request was denied. On returning to North Korea, the family were massacred. Only Sin and his sister survived, but they soon became separated, leaving Sin all alone in the world. Alone, and with no one to tell him he was being an imbecile when he grew embittered and blamed South Korea (all of South Korea – every last man, woman, child, animal, plant and square foot of it) for his family’s death.

Sent to find out who stole the military hardware and why is the wooden, soulless Lieutenant Kang Sejong (Lee Jung-jae). What follows is predictable in the extreme. Sin finds his sister again amidst plenty of melodrama. Kang tracks Sin down amidst plenty of slick camera moves and stylish violence. There’s a showdown on the ship in the middle of the titular typhoon, and frankly, it’s just dull. Dull for an hour and 40 minutes (which is a good 20 minutes too long). The dull macho action is made rather comical by the juxtaposition of frequent melodrama and a bombastic, overwrought score that just doesn’t stop, but unfortunately the comedy is unintentional, and in the age of Bourne and the new Bond, there just isn’t enough of interest in this meandering, confused effort to keep the viewer’s attention.

In what it’s tempting to see as wilful underachieving, the second disc of this box set is as under-whelming as the film itself, with so little in the way of special features that it’s clear the two-disc set is nothing more than a marketing ploy. The only extra on disc one is a trailer for another film (Company, if you’re interested), and there’s nowhere near enough on the second disc to warrant its existence. Everything would have fit just fine onto the one DVD.

In all honesty, Typhoon isn’t a bad film. The acting’s fine, the direction is competent, the story is no more preposterous than plenty of other action films, and the action scenes themselves are stylish and well shot. The problem is that Typhoon is a long way from being a good film. It’s stolidly, ploddingly average, and there’s so much better stuff around that frankly, you’d be wasting your money on it. You won’t hate it if you buy it, but it won’t make much of an impact.

The few special features that have been included on disc two are nothing to shout about, either. There’s a feature called Star Power, which is a series of interviews with the cast and the director, all of whom mumble on about how they expected the film to do better at the box office, and explain how difficult the key action scenes were to shoot.

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The interviews are mostly just voiceovers, with the scenes in question playing so that the viewer can relive the few points of the film that are actually exciting. Next is a making-of featurette, which is just as feather-light and promotional as its Hollywood counterparts, and just as boring. You’ll watch it once, because you bought the special edition and you want to get your money’s worth, but then you’ll ignore it. Finally, there are some production diaries, which are quite interesting at times, but are for the most part the same sort of thing you’ve seen before: shaky camcorder footage of the director shouting cut and action, interspersed with quick interviews with the cast and crew where the viewer learns very little.