Sin (Jang Dong-gun) has been recently operating on the Thai, Malay border with his band of modern day pirates. When he kills a ship’s crew and steals some stuff the National Intelligence Agency is alerted. They quickly respond by transferring Lieutenant Kang Se-jong (Lee Jung-jae) to the Executive Branch. They inform him that they need him to carry out a mission as a means of national security and if he gets killed they’ll take care of his mum. Se-jong is sent to Thailand to look for Sin – a North Korean who defected twenty years ago. They believe that he is planning something catastrophic, and he is. He wishes to unleash nuclear waste all across Korea. Se-jong must stop him. Yes.
Typhoon now sports the recognition of being South Korea’s highest budgeted film to date; understandably so, given that it was shot in several locations around the world, which of course is one of its main attractions. Gwak Kyung-taek, who shot to fame in 2001 with Friend helms a much bigger, though less of a personal film this time around. Typhoon just about manages to thrive, thanks to its impressive cinematography, which sees our main cast travel from South Korea to Thailand and Russia. Certainly this makes for a pleasant change in comparison to the majority of Korean thrillers that take place predominantly on home soil. But large budgets have proved time again that they don’t automatically make a good film, and even when coupled with CG special effects the biggest action movies can end up seeming so small. Typhoon has that whiff of 2009: Lost Memories and Shiri about it in relation to home-grown cinema, but it also draws significant inspiration from Hong Kong cinema, such as Infernal Affairs and several Hollywood blockbusters, even going so far as to blatantly riff of them. Sadly, where its visuals might take it to new places, its narrative structure sees it rot in a proverbial ditch of rubbishness.
And it’s a shame, it truly is. Lee Jung-jae, Jang Dong-gun and Lee Mi-yeon are great actors when called upon, but with a script that struggles to divide its attention between each character it all feels so beneath them. What we end up with is an unfocused and jingoistic piece of work, so riddled with clichés and predictable plot points that both excitement and character empathy is sucked right out of the window in an instant. Character relations appear to be crucial to Typhoon’s storytelling and in a bid to reel the viewer in Kyung-taek attempts to tell his story through all eyes. The film opens with Jung-jae’s character Kang Se-jong. He’s your typical, patriotic good guy, whose service record is so impressive that he’s the only man for the job, naturally. While not much about his character is given away the director spends much time with him, while weaving in some scenes featuring Dong-gun’s character Sin. It’s when Typhoon hits the middle mark that suddenly director Kyung-taek loses all interest in his protagonist and focuses his energy on the film’s antagonist, bringing us an entire back story which is clearly designed to generate sympathy from the viewer. It’s a bold move, and an almost fatal one at that. While Sin’s motives are made just and Dong-gun puts his all into doing a rare baddie role there’s very little to care about; a man attempting to destroy Korea for personal reasons doesn’t carry enough emotional weight or intensity here, and suddenly the cat and mouse angle between he and Se-jong slowly grinds to a halt, because by then its been torn apart through, quite frankly, boring writing and a bad attempt at trying to portray these two men as if they could really be friends in a different moment in time. The introduction of Lee Mi-yeon should have signalled a dynamic change, but alas even she is sorely underused, despite delivering a powerful enough performance, particularly during an emotional moment between herself and Dong-gun which sees his character in a different light. Come the film’s final act involving the good ol’ team sacrifice cliché that America is so good (meaning rubbish) at pulling off, the film crawls along as it tries to enliven almost thirty minutes of action, shrouded in darkness, culminating with a finale involving Se-jong which is so completely over the top and ridiculous that you can almost see “S.S. Ridiculous” emblazoned on the side of the ship.
Elsewhere, Typhoon fails with whatever commentary it’s trying to establish: North Korea, South Korea, Chernobyl, Chinese relations – it’s all so convoluted. Nothing it presents by way of exposition is interesting in the slightest. Smuggling to Russians, plans gone awry and something to do with Pakistan trading; political agendas and melodramatic overtones are almost too much to bear as it fails to evenly distribute itself. Add to the mix some diabolical spoken English and wads of melodrama and we’re left with a very disappointing film that is nowhere near as powerful as it thinks it is.
Typhoon has been released in Korea as a 2-disc special edition, through CJ Entertainment and Bear.
Presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.35:1 Typhoon gets a nice treatment on DVD. The transfer varies somewhat; detail and colours are pleasing for the most part, but as usual it suffers mainly from contrast boosting and edge enhancement. The former is all the more distracting during the final thirty minutes, in which much of the film takes place at night, seeing to it that blue and black shades struggle a little. Daytime shots fare much better, however, so things are certainly satisfactory, if not remarkable.
A choice of Korean DD5.1 Surround and Korean DTS is made available. The DTS track is the more dynamic of the two, carrying quite an impressive range, which most notably comes alive for the last act, when we have helicopters, typhoons and guns going off in all directions. There’s a very nice amount of directionality and distribution of dialogue throughout. One that should please the action/thriller fan out there.
Optional English subtitles are included and they read well. The most noticeable thing about these is that they pop up during English spoken dialogue also, but funnily enough they translate the scenes better than the actors themselves. Several supporting players are required to speak English, but unfortunately they’re all so bad at doing so that these subtitles are needed anyway.
Disc 1 contains an audio commentary with Gwak Kyung-taek and Lee Jung-jae, while disc 2 deals with all of the main material.
First up is an extensive documentary, which is split into two parts. The first part (47.07) covers familiar ground; ranging from individual interviews with the director and cast members, fight training, location shooting, set design, CG compositing. Because there’s so much dialogue, which isn’t subtitled, viewers may turn off quickly, although there is plenty of interesting footage to look at. The second part (20.34) is an interview piece, starting with Jang Dong-gun. Judging from the amount of clips they play, which includes behind the scenes footage, Dong-gun seems to be explaining his character and his relationship with his sister; giving some details on his background and presumably emotional state. He then moves on by talking about the climactic fight sequence with Lee Jung-jae, which included arduous choreographing. It’s Lee Jung-jae’s turn next as he takes us through his character. Similarly there’s a feeling of him discussing how he approached the character and what kind of a man he is, with a look at his navy background. Like Dong-gun, he also talks about filming the final fight.
The Supplementary section is divided into six categories. The first goes into pre-production (2.47), looking at storyboards and pre-visual effects. Next is a look at production design (20.54), which takes us behind the scenes of set construction, green screen, model building, weapons and armour. There’s a lot of heavy undertaking here which is very impressive. Tattoo designs follow (6.51), with an interview featuring a design artist who talks about working on Dong-gun’s tattoos and the support cast. We look at the tattoos being applied in make-up, some of which are striking and all the more interesting when it’s one of those things that goes largely overlooked during the film. The next segment is fairly long (23.59) and gets into shooting on location, around South Korea, Thailand and Russia. CG is next (8.55), which shows us how they achieved the epic storm finale with green screen and models, along with some more discreet effects littered throughout the feature. Finally we have what I presume to be the director’s final thoughts (2.30). It’s very brief, showing a few more behind the scenes footage.
Promotional work is the last feature on the disc. As with the supplementary material it is split into six parts. The first is a Q&A session (11.25), with stars and director in attendance to promote the film to the local media. The film’s premier is next (4.37), again including a few cast commentaries and familiar faces in the audience. A press conference (3.32) with Gwak Kyung-tae, Lee Jung-jae and Jang Dong-gun is next. Finally we have a theatrical trailer, a TV spot and a music video.
Typhoon has recently been picked up by DreamWorks for an overseas release, as well as being optioned for a possible remake. I’m not convinced that this is a good thing; the idea as it currently stands offers very little in the way of innovation, and despite some solid performances from its main cast and attractive on-location photography it feels far too forceful in every respect for it to confidently stand out in a well established genre.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:47:54