Time and again South Korea prove that the slew of popular films from produced in the early 2000s were not a flash in the pan. The popular films from the beginning of the 21st century, including the films of Kim Ki-duk and Park Chan-wook attracted much international claim. Over the years films such as the vampire movie, Thirst (2009), The Yellow Sea (2010), The Tiger (2015), The Handmaiden and Train to Busan (both 2016) have demonstrated that South Korean cinema is popular and still has an international audience. A film that did not get a broad release but deserves one is Sea Fog (2014), a story that also proves a migration crisis is not just one experienced in the Mediterranean, but is also a concern in South East Asia. Sea Fog is released for the first time in the UK on 88 Films.
This is a film that delivers surprise after surprise. On watching the film the viewer, if not totally aware of the subject matter, may have an assumption as to how the story goes: poor fisherman supplement their income by picking up Chinese and North Korean migrants fleeing their countries, are subject to the harsh conditions on the boat, a girl is saved by one of the members of the crew and helps her (possibly even having a romantic tryst with her) and the crew narrowly escape death and/or capture by coast guards. Yes, all these things happen in the film – and more. Indeed, there are some jaw dropping and very shocking moments in the film that pitch in intensity in the last half.
From the offset, with most of the film set on board a rough old fishing boat the audience gets a sense of the tough life aboard this fishing boat and in that sense, it matches or can be compared with the Icelandic film The Deep (2012), but without the migrant element. The engine room for example is seen as a labyrinthine place where people can hide out while the characters are, as you’d expect rough and ready. From early on in the film we are made aware that the crew are falling short of the catch, have problems with the winch and the nets and the captain already planning to make money with migrants and people smuggling. When it comes to it, the characters become desperate, whether they are the 6-man crew or the migrants and, casting minds towards those who undertake these perilous journeys it is food for thought as drama.
The suspense is aided in no small part by the sets created for the film as well as the sharp and clear camerawork by Hong Kyung-pyo. One of the extras on the disc is a small featurette on the spfx and showing how some of the fog, rain and storm effects were achieved using blue screen (and, in this case quite successfully). This is also the first feature for director Shim Sung-bo who had previously provided the screenplay to a couple of films, most significantly the internationally acclaimed Memories of Murder (2003). Unsurprisingly the support for the film is given by the films co-writer and producer who was also the director of Memories of Murder, Bong Joon-ho. Bong Joon-ho has also directed such seminal South Korean films as the brilliant The Host (2006) and Okja (2017).
The disc is nicely packaged by 88 Films with a slip case illustrating different poster art to the one on the cover of the case. It is also presented in both stereo 2.0 and surround sound 5.1. An additional extra is a short featurette on Bong Joon-ho by Jean Noh, Asia editor for Screen International.