By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
I probably don’t need to tell you how highly I esteem Korean genre filmmaking these days, and one of the foremost exemplars of it is Bong Joon-ho, director of The Host and Snowpiercer. Seeing his name attached to any project is enough for me to give it a watch.
For good reason.
Sea Fog centers on a fishing trawler captained by a gruff captain (Kim Yoon-seok) which takes a smuggling job with a less than expected cargo. As the fog rolls in, a horrible accident starts the crew down a bloody path that can only end one way.
I definitely buried the lede a bit, since Bong doesn’t direct this, but rather co-writes with this film’s first-time director Shim Sung-bo, who he wrote the excellent Memories of Murder with. The parallels continue to Bong’s world-class, long-time DP Hong Kyong-po.
Appropriately then, it’s a well-constructed and shot film, without any quibble to be made about any of the basic elements of filmmaking- this is a crew that knows what it’s doing. Personally I enjoyed the perceptive, very Korean cultural touches, like the way you’ll get asked your Blood Type and Age to get a handle on where you fit in societally, or the multiple entendres of a young woman calling a man “Opa” – “Big Brother”.
Type ‘O’ is totally the best.
Finally, the film takes an immensely fucked up turn that puts it in unexpected genre territory- it’s certainly a shocker.
The captain is ridiculously put-upon. Every woman who sees him berates him about money, especially his wife who he catches banging another man and doesn’t even bat an eye at. It’s a really weird character path that makes his eventual arc even stranger.
This movie is chock full of fucked up sex politics, a lot drawn from the plot situation and what almost certainly does happen in similar real circumstances, but the film plays it for laughs most of the time instead of the sad situation it is. Sex is currency, both for these illegal immigrants being smuggled in and for the fishing village women back home. It’s not really a funny thing at all.
With all that in mind, one late sex scene really stands out as fucked up, despite and honestly very much because of the tender music and shooting. Korean genre films do not shy away from complex emotional and moral situations, but this isn’t played very complex at all- just sexist to the fullest extent.
I’m not usually worried about PC, but there are definitely limits.
Sea Fog is largely an effective thriller, until the frankly confusingly deployed sexism fills your mouth with a bad taste it’s hard to get out.
Sea Fog (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for deadly maritime peril
Take a Drink: whenever a prostitute shows up
Take a Drink: for complaints and conversations about money
Take a Drink: whenever the Captain does something fucked up out of the blue
Take a Drink: whenever going to the engine room is discussed or occurs
Do a Shot: for sex scenes