Haeundae Review

The first Fun Trivia Fact on IMDB about the Korean box-office smash HAEUNDAE is: “The film’s title is taken from Haeundae Beach, a wealthy sea-side resort area south-east of the city of Busan, South Korea. ‘Haeun’ translates as ‘Sea & Clouds’.” Until I read this, I was under the impression that the word meant “tsunami”, since that is the U.S. title for the film (and since the film is all about a massive wave that causes a great deal of wreckage and tears for the people of Busan). It seemed to make sense, but wrong as it is, I was very pleased to find out that Korean disaster films are as joyously chaotic as anything Americans could create. For much of its run-time, HAEUNDAE is a sweet-natured, almost goofy tale about a dozen residents of the city who end up finding out too late that massive walls of water and pedestrian activities do not mix.

The relationships of all the characters are so many and tangled that it does help to keep a scorecard. Man-sik is a troubled former fisherman in love with Yeon-hee, who is struggling to keep her sea-side cafe afloat. Hyeong-sik is a rescue worker who is pursued by Hee-mi, who tends to bite his lip when they kiss. And Kim-hwi is a scientist who balances tracking an oncoming tsunami with his own domestic issues: his ex, Yoo-jin, refuses to tell their daughter that Kim-hwi is her father. This is a fraction of the characters weaving in and out of the story.

Much of the more excitable domestic activity verges on slapstick, but late in the film, when a mega-tsunami strikes with a mere ten minutes to evacuate, the tone shifts sharply to gut-wrenching, tear-jerking poignancy. Of all the possible victims, I’ll mention that the two child actors in the film (who are both phenomenally cute and acquit themselves quite well on screen) do survive the mayhem. There are moments throughout the final act when characters we’ve grown to like are washed away by ridiculously powerful waves…and were this not a film, one would expect we would never see them again. But this is an entertainment, first and foremost, and HAEUNDAE is a crowd-pleasing effort in a subgenre that was practically created by Hollywood. (Review by Steve Norwood - content provider for the Asian Film Festival of Dallas - AFFD)

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