Haeundae, directed by Yoon Je-Kyoon, is named after the beach neighborhood in the Korean city of Busan. It’s billed as a disaster movie about a giant Tsunami. The bulk of the film focuses on the lives of various city residents, with a subplot of people who run a restaurant by the shore, who conflict with a businessmen who wants to build a giant mall in the area. The businessman is also related to one of the restaurant people.
Also one of the workers is racked with guilt over the death of an older friend during the 2004 Tsunami. The movie actually starts out during the 2004 Tsunami, giving a real life anchor to the story, which was a nice touch.
As it moves along there are lots of stories about love, fighting, family, etc. Many parts of this movie are actually very funny, like when one character is rushed to the hospital after drinking shampoo, because, in a drunken stupor, he thought it was stomach medicine. Before that the same drunk is heckling a ballplayer at a baseball game in Busan. In that scene we get to see the festiveness of Busan baseball. Another funny scene is when a man convinces his elementary aged nephew to dress up like a cripple and beg for money, while his uncle follows behind him, pretending to be blind. The police busts him and hilarity ensues.
Most disaster movies have the disaster occurring at least half way through, but here it doesn’t happen until the third act. During the movie we get a few shots of ocean activity, in which the special effects are ok in comparison to US movies. When the Tsunami arrives though it looks pretty good, (It actually knocks over tall buildings) as does the aftermath.
The thing about a giant wave is, once it hits, it’s done. The filmmakers kept this in mind by adding other elements, like the danger of electrocution from submerged power lines, and an amazing scene where a cargo ship crashes into a bridge, dropping it’s large steel boxes everywhere, some of them even fly into buildings.
So we get good mix of emotions, some parts are really really funny, some parts are really sad, and the disaster scenes are pretty tense. Most of the acting is decent but there are so many characters that it is hard to feel for them all.
It does lose some ground toward the end. Some parts drag a tiny bit (Koreans love those long drawn out shots of people crying or shouting played to dramatic music), and one characters death at sea is pretty ridiculous. In another scene we think a character dies, and in the very next scene we find out they’re alright. That next scene needed to come later. Personally I might have slightly altered which characters survived and who didn’t.
All in all it’s probably the best disaster movie I’ve ever seen. Though I don’t like most disaster movies anyway. It also was cool to see places in a movie I’ve actually been too. Haeundae beach is a pretty fun place. (By the way there were English subtitles.) Anyway this was pretty solid. Probably the best I’ve seen this year actually. 9/10