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April 28, 2012 | 11:17 a.m. CST
How to Kill a Guy in 10 Days:
1. Scout out the location
2. Wait until he’s alone
3. Botch everything up
Anyway, that’s the itinerary that Chinese taxi driver Gu-nam follows when he’s given an assassination mission to pay off his ¥60,000 ($10,000) debt. After crossing over the Yellow Sea into South Korea to look for his mark, his week and a half begins. What follows is a Grand Theft Auto-style bloodbath with a healthy kill count and plenty of knife chow.
The second film by director Hong-jin Na (The Chaser), The Yellow Sea has influences of other South Korean cinema. Comical, overdraught violence is reminiscent of the cringe-inducing scenes of Oldboy and Kung Fu Hustle. However, the one-man-versus-a-million theme is nothing new to American audiences; comparisons to First Blood come to mind the quickest.
To enjoy this film, it’s a requirement to toss out any concept of the fragility of human life. The two protagonists could very well be superheroes, judging by the knife wounds, gunshots, falls and car crashes they survive.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s more dangerous in this film, the man wielding an axe or the suspense, which wanes and re-emerges in a flash. What’s far from dangerous is the arm of the law. It’s unsettling how the ineptitude of Korean police is portrayed. Entire squadrons of police cars are chasing Gu-nam within spitting distance and they continually fail to catch him.
Almost, but not quite, as disturbing are the awkward — and silent — sex scenes peppered throughout the full 157 minutes. And speaking of runtime, it was much longer than it needed to be, which could be partly blamed on the sluggish plot development during the first act.
But, it’s easy to list all the inadequacies of a movie when those are the only ones. Those with 20/50 vision will appreciate the large subtitles. And audiences desiring an action-packed joyride matching Drive will be pleased. Rarely has there ever been a film since Hitchcock with as much nervous tension.