Films teach us lessons - about morality, about determination, about the human condition. They also teach lessons indirectly, as in the case of the Korean big budget flick Typhoon. The morale of the story? Money isn't everything. And no, I'm not referring to plot points here; This bombastic, boring-as-hell action flick shows that a huge budget isn't much without immediacy, without purpose, behind spending that green. What results from this North / South Korean political misfire is a visually appealing effort, yet it doesn't make its audience care worth a lick about the twisted nature of the conflicts at hand.
Modern-day Pirate Sin (Jang Dong-gun) has a thirst for revenge, one that's been unsatisfied for decades. The North / South Korean conflict caused his family great turmoil during his childhood, manifesting some mental damage that has festered in the rogue's mind for countless years. In retaliation, along with pure malice for the world within his heart, he plots to intercept and "redirect" a shipment of lethal weapons sent to Korea for conflict purposes from the United States. Ah, but here to say the day is military pretty boy Sejong (Lee Jung-Jae), embodying a stark reminiscence to Tom Cruise in Top Gun as he accepts his dangerous mission. Both lead characters carry different forms of charisma, Sin falling into the wild, yet earnest, dynamic while Sejong keeps his stern, stoic Boy Scout charm.
It's a shame that Typhoon doesn't hold near the same kind of bravura as its leads Jang Dong-gun and Lee Jung-Jae. Kwak Kyung-Taek's film construes viewer interest quickly once the undammed lines of political context try to "smarten" up a straightforward concept and make it into a gallant display of Korean patriotism. Layers upon layers and complications upon complications arise, all about as clear in tone as the face of a coin covered in mud. The gist that we need from this conflict surfaces, though, and it's enough to run with as the tensions tries to escalate around the pirates' efforts at mass nuclear destruction. To give it the benefit of the doubt, the film does attempt to pull together a bushel of thematic conflict that revolves around the current Korean rumblings within its rough-and-tumble narrative of hindered tension.
However, there's so much movie packed within its bloated 125-minute runtime that it can be overwhelming - to such a degree that the excitement drains out of Typhoon. Our protagonist / antagonist conflict gets everything positioned properly for a gravitational clash between the two forces, but it neglects to ignite that spark underneath its multitude of complexities. The film's nature follows neither style nor substance, yet there isn't anything absolutely wrong with its fumbled efforts. As it stands with its stilted attempts at political messages, uninspiring aesthetic conception, and underused performances, Kwak Kyung-Taek's film operates a lot like a fried power strip with way too many outlets filled up. Though it looks like everything should click and get the juices flowing, it just fizzles and stops sending energy to its components.
Typhoon still marks a milestone for Korean big-budget films, clocking in at around the equivalent of $15 million as it fuels explosions, boat chases, stunts, and other wacky high-dollar nonsense. I'm reminded of the hoopla behind Musa the Warrior, the martial arts epic that boasted an at-the-time highest budget for a Korean film at $8 million in 2001. There's a stark difference between it and Typhoon, other than the obvious period differences; Musa really used every dollar of its higher budget, resulting in a brutal, engaging period adventure with a nice undercurrent of analytical themes about society. Typhoon, instead of coming across as a low-budget film utilizing the tools of a higher dollar amount, feels like its resources were underused and lacked the momentum to keep the narrative going. In ways, it even seems less intricately achieved than some films with a tenth of the bank behind their tricks.
Execution is Typhoon's real problem; it has fine ideas along with its entire artillery of cinematic weapons to assault an audience with - and we see them, in plain sight, during the film. There could be emotion, there could be explosive action, and there could be that unbearable tension in a 24-esque fashion where everything clicks together into a chaotic web around a quasi-apocalyptic threat. However, after enduring lackluster choices in style and tone, watching the climax come crashing down like the force of nature that the title spawns from was a welcome and prolonged event. To generalize my reaction, the political and patriotic themes present in Typhoon weren't enough to counterbalance the insurmountable boredom the rest of the film's action-based "resources" weighed upon me. It has its popcorn action moments, but not nearly enough to rescue this heavy sinker.
Typhoon is presented from Genius Products in their now commonplace import packages that contain an standard keepcase presentation with a matching slipcover and discart.
Once again, Genius Products gives us a fairly solid CJ Entertainment-based anamorphic widescreen preserving the 2.35:1 widescreen ratio of Typhoon's theatrical distribution. The print generally looks very good, displaying very lenient levels of grain and color saturation. One issue I noticed in several points throughout the film, however, is that some of the hues lean a shade towards the pink side. Some skin shading looks a bit red, while solid white elements appeared with a rosy tinge. Still, a majority of the transfer exhibits great detail work, solid usage of both icy and umber palettes, as well as competent shadow details. It's more three-dimensional than some of Genius' recent transfers, but also shows a bit more digital grain. This is a satisfactory transfer, but not without a few hiccups along the way.
Typhoon's Korean 5.1 audio presentation is a great accompaniment to the decent transfer, mainly because it goes a step or two beyond what the visual qualities couldn't get right. Surround channel usage is quite fluid here, pun intended. At several points, rushing water becomes one of the sole elements that adds three dimensionality to the sound quality, and this disc makes certain to preserve this scope. The only element that sounded a bit hollow and unsatisfying to my ears was the lack of much lower frequency bass work. Outside of that, vocal clarity and sound effect usage all sounded just fine. As per the norm with Genius' recent releases, the original Korean language track is the only audible option, as are optional English subtitles - which, for the record, were fairly gentle on my comprehension.
Over an hour of featurettes are included here, segmented across several of the film's big expenditures that can attribute to the large budget. Each piece is presented in a full-frame image with rather bland visual appeal, though it all comes with well realized subtitles. Each piece comes integrated with behind-the-scenes footage featuring a load of the important scenes from the film.
Twenty-four minutes is spent talking about shooting in the different locations across the film's expansive geography. Several shots take place from the stretches of Korea all the way to Russia, and this featurette talks about the constraints and liberalization of shooting within each locale. It also describes how the director selected individual actors from each country in meticulous fashion.
Here, most of the twenty-one minutes of material concentrates on developing the set design, especially with the boats in the early and later stages of the film. There's a lot of really neat assembly footage scattered about the material, as well as some interesting commentary on building the aesthetics for the flick.
The visual effects portion involves several split screen shots that show the integration of blue / green screen photography and CG modeling to create some of the film's flavor. It also shows how they rendered several of the screens on computers for pre-vis work. Furthermore, you also get to see how they incorporated some of the fancy camerawork from some very expensive toys into the film.
Finally, the last 7 minute featurette focuses on the characters' tattoos and, in particular, the artist that conceived them. The piece focuses on Sin's marks, how those tattoos purposely were "roughed" them up, and how that similar theme stretches to the rest of the cast's designs.
Part of me was hoping that Typhoon was going to be an adrenaline rush of a politcal thrillride. Instead, it sluggishly flowed along for two hours without much more than a splash, even despite the fact that it tries to really scrounge up a storm. It's not a bad aural and visual exercise for your DVD player, but the film's shallow motifs and non-engaging action helps along this reluctant Skip It recommendation.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site