REVIEW: Haemoo (2014)

Suffering hard times, a captain and his crew make the risky decision to make extra cash by smuggling people into the country.


By Raymond Arcega
Last updated on

Haemoo

Original title: 해무
Year: 2014
Country: Korea
Language: Korean
Genres: Drama, Thriller
Director: Shim Sung-bo

Park Yoo-chun is Captain Kang, the head of a fishing ship on hard times. When things get desperate, Kang agrees to smuggle in Chinese-Koreans into the country for a heap of extra cash. Though frightened at first by the captain’s decision, his crew decides to go along for the ride.

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The story takes a tragic turn when the crew, in an effort to escape the coast guard’s inspection, decides to keep the thirty stowaways in the ship’s fish storage. They prop open the storage later to find everyone suffocated to death.

This is a frightening and engrossing story about the lengths a person would go when desperate; an exploration of the dark side of humanity. Everyone involved in this tragedy gradually gets more and more insane as the story progresses, including us as we experience the horrific decisions the captain and his crew make.

The crew is a motley crew of different characters, all of whose personalities suggest that life as a fisherman can make one extremely lonely. So what happens when the men find a couple of women among the stowaways? A few of the fishermen start making claims to the women, charming them so that they might have a chance in the bedroom.

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Adding to the fishermen’s lonely personalities is the isolated, yet captivating setting at sea. A good 90% of the film takes place on the boat, away from any hands that could lend any help to the situation. In essence, the sea is also a character, or a central figure in the film’s storytelling if not.

As the mood of the story gets increasingly darker, the sea itself does as well. When the titular “sea fog” sets in, the crew does their most horrific deeds, mirroring the haze that must have been occupying each of the characters’ minds at that moment. It becomes hard to believe that these characters were just ordinary people, with ordinary problems, at the start of the film.

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The film has elements from psychological thrillers and revenge tales, but adds a dash of the disaster genre. It handles just about every genre with care and with balance, not resorting to being over-the-top. That is, other than an on-screen romance being forced into the story (more on this in a bit).

While the story, dialog, and cinematography deserve high marks, the characters, with the exception of Captain Kang, felt a little flat. Everyone had their designated archetype and pretty much stuck to it. The most disappointing was Dong-sik (played by Park Yoo-chun), who was given the task of being the lead hero of the story. It felt a bit difficult to cheer for a naive young boy who’s smitten with the first girl he sees in the midst of a dire smuggling operation.

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Dong-sik falls in love with Hong-mae (Han Ye-ri), one of the stowaways. Their relationship went from curiosity, to infatuation, to thoughts of marriage in less than a day. The relationship was forced into the story, and made it seem like the only reason Dong-sik was on the side of reason was so he could defend the girl who let him take her to bed (that happened, too).

However, we can easily forgive this mishap because of the epic climax. Captain Kang couldn’t climb out of the darkness he let himself succumb to, and it would destroy everything around him. His corruption brought us many memorable moments, many of which will remain in our heads long after the film has finished.

And in the end, it’s hard to believe that Haemoo was based on a stage play, which in turn, was based on true events.


Watch this film…

…if you want to be horrified at how terrible people can be.


About the Author

Raymond Arcega

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