Fresh off the heels of seeing 2012 with John Cusack I was intrigued on how an Asian disaster movie might fare. Haeundae is at least as good as any of the best American disaster movies. I actually think it is better as it breaks the typical American disaster movie formula in many interesting ways. In short its very high quality and quite refreshing! Basically, Haeundae focuses on a geologist who is obsessed with his job and sacrificed his time with his wife and daughter to a certain point that his daughter didn’t even know of his existance. There is a lot of setting up the plot, and it drags a bit. Being a disaster movie this is unacceptable because it takes around an hour until the tsunami finally arrives. If your patience pays off though, you’ll find a decent plot, acting, and quite a few tear-jerking factors.
You might have to suspend your sense of belief as the stunts within the movie do not stand up to laws of physics. However, the wackiness of the setups makes them visual stunners. If you are a fan of disaster movies, you might be a lil disappointed. But give Korea a chance and maybe someday they can break into Hollywood like what they did with their soap opera shows in Asia. Still, Haeundae is not all bad. I have to give Youn credit for putting in the effort of at least trying to develop a story beyond a simple explosion flick and put people in seats that we have a dime a dozen of here in the States.
On paper, Haeundae’s variation on the main disaster flick theme is worth looking into. Among the rest of the cast, there’s another loser buffoon character, whose name I don’t remember and don’t even want to remember. The comedy relief in this movie was ineffective and came off really corny. Several Korean news sites reported that the digital file is somewhat different from the final cut because it was prepared in early July, when the press screening was due. This made me wonder if what I was seeing was what was intended. But, with the surprisingly successful result of Haeundae, director Youn Je-kyun’s next movie is reportedly on the fast track.
There are only two ways this film could have worked. One takes a more serious approach: The destruction scenes are downplayed and made to work with the characters rather than in spite of them, symbolically representing the turmoil in their lives. The other way is a low budget camp fest. It’s technically proficient, the acting is not too bad, and it has a few inspired moments of hilarity. But it ultimately tries to be meaningful and overcome its genre trappings despite not having what it takes to do so; it tries to be more than just a summer flick, but in the long run it fails. So the final score meets in the middle ground due too its cheesy melodramatic popcorn tone, but I just wish there was more heart at the core. It is not quite a mess of a movie, but it’s a disaster movie that you’ll find attractive or otherwise on your own accord.