If Michael Bay were Korean and sober, he'd probably make a movie like "Typhoon." South Korean cinema has been yearning to mimic the Hollywood blockbuster style, and this film, reportedly the most expensive South Korean production to date, offers every slice of over-the-top American action flick cliché in town, so much so that the darn thing plays like a big, enjoyably stupid Bruckheimer-produced popcorn flick. It's a balls-out action thriller about modern day pirates, Navy heroes, Russian nuclear waste, car chases, shoot-outs, 'splosions, and two typhoons set to collide and mesh into one superawesome megatyphoon right over Seoul!
Granted, writer/director Kwak Kyung-Taek ("Champion," "Friend") also borrows from Hong Kong actioners in terms of plotting and flamboyancy, but there appears to be a longing here to win over Yankee audiences: a portion of the dialogue is in English, the story has a more international flavor, and most of the action set pieces don't look much different than what you'd find in a Western picture.
Sin (Jang Dong-Kun) swore vengeance on South Korea decades ago, when, as a child, his family was turned away at the border while trying to flee from the North - only to be slaughtered by North Korean soldiers upon their capture. As motivation, it lacks the political crackle of "J.S.A." or the insane fury of "Shiri," but it's enough to fuel some lengthy speeches about a broken nation, speeches that kill enough time in between the gunplay. Sin now lives as a pirate, hijacking cargo vessels in a ploy to collect thirty tons of nuclear waste for his own nefarious use. (Betcha that megatyphoon is involved!)
Navy officer Gang (Lee Jung-Jae) is assigned to track down Sin, a task which leads him from Russia to Thailand and finally off the coast of the Korean peninsula. Along the way, he finds Sin's long-lost sister (Lee Mi-young), who becomes something a bargaining chip between our two leads. The movie stops in its tracks to tell us the siblings' story, something we really didn't need, although it does help Gang gain sympathy for Sin. Later, our hero laments that old line about how in another world, he and Sin could have been friends.
Yeah, it's that kind of movie, striving for depth but never quite making it. The characters are too thin to work on an emotional level. Curiously, the movie improves when it abandons quiet thought and goes for hammy, near-operatic melodrama (watch the siblings' reunion, all wails and close-ups), a tone which fits well with the oversized action - like the finale involving a knife fight on a catwalk in the rusty depths of a boat that's on fire in the middle of a typhoon. Ridiculous, yes, but entertaining as hell, which pretty much sums up the entire movie. Kwak has a wooden ear for dialogue and character (we never do feel the energy between the stars), but he sure knows how to stage an action scene. When Kwak amps up the kinetics, he's got himself some solid thrills.
For all its hype and budget, "Typhoon" wound up only doing mediocre business in its home country, with low box office barely topping the high costs, making it a flop; international business (including a barely-there U.S. release in 2006) was even worse. This has left the movie with the reputation of a dud, but reevaluation suggests that it's far from it. "Typhoon" is a goofy mess, plenty exhilarating in all the right spots, except for the character ones. Just like a Michael Bay flick.
After a limited theatrical run from Paramount two years back, "Typhoon" finally arrives on DVD in Region 1 courtesy Genius Entertainment.
Video & Audio
Every penny of the film's budget shines through in this slick, crisp anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer. Location shots are lovely, blacks are deep and rich, effects shots are clean. It's a visually dazzling film that gets the transfer it deserves.
The original soundtrack, which juggles Korean, English, and Russian dialogue, gets a clumsy Dolby 5.1 mix that places the dialogue much softer than the music and effects. You'll be toying with the volume controls throughout the movie, hoping to hear lines on moment, struggling to turn down gunshots the next. Optional English subtitles are included, but unfortunately, they only cover the non-English dialogue.
Every inch of the film's production is covered in great detail in the documentary and four featurettes included. First up is "The Making of Typhoon" (47:13), which showcases cast and crew interviews and oodles of behind-the-scenes footage, covering everything from stunt work to location shooting and all in between.
Four featurettes go into greater detail on specific elements of the filmmaking process: "Location" (24:06), "Production Design" (21:01), "Visual Effects" (9:02), and "Tattoo" (6:58), the latter revealing the intricate process of creating an entire cast of decorated skin.
All bonus material is presented in a 1.33:1 ratio with film clips properly letterboxed. These are original South Korean materials presented with the original Korean soundtrack; optional English subs are included.
Genius is to be commended for providing "Typhoon" with a far better disc than one would expect from such an import (audio issues aside). Fans of big, goofy action will appreciate the film, and to them, this disc is certainly Recommended.