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November 06, 2015

Denver Film Festival: Sea Fog

haemoo poster.jpg

Shim Sung-bo - 2014
Film Movement

Had I not done a little research, I might never have known that Sea Fog has been adapted from a stage play. That the play, in turn, was inspired by true events was also verified. This is the directorial debut of Shim Sung-bo, whose previous credits include co-writing Memories of Murder with director Bong Joon-ho. Bong, who's gone on to international acclaim with with The Host and Snowpiercer, has a hand in the screenplay here, as well as serving as producer.

The film takes place in 1998. The international monetary crises that his Asia dominates the news, even impacting a small village on the Korean coast. Kang is captain of a fishing boat that is having little luck with its catches. He is at the point where selling his boat would be more profitable than continuing to take his crew out to sea. Kang takes on smuggling job to make money, which turns out to be a job smuggling illegal immigrants. What begins as a story of people trying to survive financially turns into a life and death struggle that destroys nearly everyone involved on Kang's boat.

Such expressions as staying afloat or keeping one's head above water become literal here. The immigrants, Korean-Chinese, are, like many immigrants, hoping for a better life in Korea. Kang is superstitious about having women aboard his ship, claiming that it brings bad luck. Not only are several of the immigrants women, but their presence disturbs the camaraderie of Kang's crew. A seemingly altruistic act by one of the crew members is the catalyst for a rampage of death and destruction.

As Kang, Kim Yoon-seok cuts an improbably heroic figure, trying to save his ship by himself. Shim ably conveys Kang's seemingly superhuman efforts to move broken masts and other debris out of the way. The last scene with Kang, alone a his sinking ship, is almost enough to negate his more questionable actions, also done in the name of survival. Kim should be a familiar face to those following South Korean film, with appearances in the Tazza series, The Chaser, and a favorite of mine, The Thieves. The fog that envelops the boat is an obvious metaphor as well, but one that does not in any way diminish the drama at sea.

In explaining why Sea Fog was chosen by Shim to be his directorial debut: What interested me in the beginning was how panic and desperation can turn normal human beings into criminals. I wanted to take a story of this nature from a thriller perspective or slant. This film is about how any normal, run-of-the-mill person can become guilty, feel fear and become radical and dangerous.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 6, 2015 08:14 AM