Tidal Wave can kind of be thought of as the Korean 2012 in that it was a pretty successful disaster movie that did quite well at the box office, even if it didn't exactly enamor itself with film critics. While it isn't quite as epic as Emmerich's 2009 summer blockbuster mess, it still destroys all sorts of stuff and provides no small amount of on screen chaos, carnage and destruction. Unfortunately, Tidal Wave, directed by JK Youn, has Just as many problems as most of the Hollywood disaster films it tries so hard to emulate.
The film is set in the small ocean side town of Haeundae where everyone who lives there has felt the effects of recent natural disasters, many having lost loved ones and family members to the earthquakes and tsunami's that are unfortunately all too common in the area. Unfortunately for the fine citizens of Haeundae, they're about to learn once more, the hard way even, that mother nature is a bitch. A geologist learns that a massive tidal wave is set to lay waste to the coastal region they call home and sets out to warn people, but for whatever reason, thanks to a pigheaded politician no one wants to hear what he has to say. Instead, the people more or less go on with their lives - we spend the first hour or so of the movie watching people fall in love, go to work, tend to their families, and just kind of hang out.... until that massive aforementioned tidal wave begins to come closer and closer to shore.
The first hour of Tidal Wave isn't very interesting. It's obvious that Youn is trying to pull us into the everyday lives of the citizens of Haeundae but no one is really fleshed out well enough for us to want to invest any emotion into what happens to them. Yeah, fine, they have relationships and loves and feelings just like everyone else does and that's a good thing but not enough is done with that very basic set up to draw us in. This means that when the film finally gets around to showing us all manner of human drama and turmoil, it's entertaining enough but not all that gripping. The film is superficial to a fault, not allowing us or encouraging us to care for the characters one bit until the inevitable happens, at which point, a few sudden pulls on the heart strings try to rope you in but to no avail.
The effects for the film were created by Polygon Entertainment who have made quite a name for themselves in the world of digital effects work thanks to their efforts on successful Hollywood films like The Day After Tomorrow and members of their team have worked on everything from the Star Wars films to The Matrix Trilogy. Their work here is intermittently impressive but also periodically a little flat looking, almost dated looking in some regards. It's hard not to compare the film to something like Avatar, which obviously set a new standard in computer generated effects work, and once you start making that comparison, or even put it up against the aforementioned 2012, the effects aren't as strong. They're not bad, but they're very obviously computer generated and that makes it a bit harder to suspend our disbelief.
That said, the last hour of the picture has enough going for it that, if nothing else, you can shut off your brain and enjoy the ride. There are some very impressive and well choreographed scenes of epic destruction here as the titular tidal wave lays siege to the landscape. There are some very effective moments in the film that mix black comedy with the devastation that occurs, and once the picture picks up steam and gets on with the show, it's not a half bad time killer. More meat on the bones of the core cast members and some tighter editing would have gone a long way towards making a more intelligent and serious picture, but as far as disaster movies goes, this one is of at least average quality, allowing indiscriminating viewers to check their brains at the door and go along for the ride.
Tidal Wave arrives on Blu-ray in a VC-1 encoded 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition transfer. The colors have been boosted throughout the movie and contrast is definitely hotter than usual here, but in the context of the movie it actually works well. Some mild edge enhancement is noticeable here and there and detail does suffer a bit now and then but black levels are rock solid and texture is good. Some shots fare better than others - those with a lot of digital effects in them don't look quite as natural or detailed as more natural shots can, but overall the image here is a pretty good one. There aren't any macroblocking or mpeg compression artifacts to note and skin tones generally look pretty realistic. If this isn't a perfect transfer it is at least quite a good one.
DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track are supplied in the film's original Korean language and dubbed into English with subtitles provided in English, English SDH and Spanish. Magnolia should be commended for giving enough weight and impact to the mix on this disc that it really does sufficiently convey the mass destruction playing out on screen. The bass is deep and powerful and provides plenty of welcome rumble when the film calls for it but it never feels forced or phony, rather, it complements the chaos on screen. Dialogue is mixed in well, meaning that the performers only get lost in the insanity when they're supposed to; otherwise you can hear them well enough and without any problems, while the score is spread out nicely and quite effectively. There are scenes in the film that will make you duck or swerve, and the audio mix plays a big part in making that happen - nicely done.
Most of the extras on this release appear in the form of a series of featurettes, starting with a ten minute piece called The Project in which the director and his team talk about how and why they decided to get this project off the ground. It's a good look at the idea process and the preproduction process, which segues nicely into the forty-five minute The Making Of Tidal Wave. This longer documentary includes a load of interview clips with the cast and crew as well as some interesting behind the scenes footage and effects footage that shows how some of the picture's more impressive sequences were created. This is followed by just under six minutes worth of cast interviews in the Characters piece in which the actors talk about their characters, explain their intentions in playing their respective roles and discuss their part in the film.
A seven minute segment entitled Production Design explores just that and gives us a glimpse into what was required to create the sets and effects set pieces that anchor the film, while the six minute Musical Score piece interviews Byung-woo Lee, the man who created the soundtrack for the film. The two part Sound Mixing featurette is thirteen minutes worth of footage showing how sound design played an important part in making parts of the film as effective as they are, while the eleven minute Marketing featurette shows how the production house that created the film marketed it to audiences. Rounding out the extras is a twenty three minute piece that explores CG Special Effects by showing us how the computer generated effects work was layered over top of the live action footage, and an eleven minute piece entitled Cinematography that explains quite effectively how and why certain angles and camera set ups were used for specific parts of the film.
Rounding out the extra on the disc are thirteen minutes of inconsequential deleted scenes, a gag reel, trailers for other unrelated Magnolia releases, menus, chapter stops, and some Blu-ray Live connectivity. Aside from the trailers, all of the extras on this release are in standard definition.
Tidal Wave definitely has some problems, especially in the pacing of the first hour, but once it picks up and the titular disaster inevitably strikes, the movie shifts into high gear and gets pretty exciting. The effects are solid, the disaster scenes impressive and some of the set pieces are pretty memorable so while this is far from a classic, it's at least worth a watch and fairly good entertainment at that. Magnolia's Blu-ray looks decent and sounds great and includes a pretty solid smattering of extras on top of all that. This probably isn't going to be something you'll want to watch over and over again unless you're really into disaster movies, but it's worth watch and a very solid rental and disaster movie die-hards might event want to own it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.