“Haemoo” is well written, a carefully crafted drama and character study in human nature of various personality types when they are placed under exceptional and stressful circumstances. The story starts with the fishing boat fresh out at sea with a crew of mostly familiar faces who are expecting to catch fish, but unbeknownst to them that Captain Kang Chul-joo, played by Kim Yoon-seok, has made different arrangement for this expedition for fast cash to save his boat he fears will be taken away from him. Shortly after they are out to sea the crew becomes aware of a clandestine rendezvous that had been previously arranged by Kang to pick up ethnic Koreans from China who are illegally migrating to Korea. This activity is a high risk and illegal endeavor put all 5 crew members on the boat at in great jeopardy with prison as an obvious outcome. The saga of Haemoo, which translates “Sea Fog”, is a story that details the maddening downward spiral that goes strangely askew when the most unexpected situation befalls the illegal migrants that test the crew and the boat’s Captain.
Nested in the horrifying story line is the romance that becomes the emotional core to this story. Dong-sik, played by Park Yu-chun, the youngest and newest member of the crew who rescued Hong-mae, played by Han Ye-ri, after she fell into open rough seas during the clandestine transference of these illegal immigrants from boat to boat, while being buried in the dark night’s fog. Once Dong-sik successfully rescues Hong-mae, he falls into the role of nurturer: eventually, he becomes her lover and provider. In his efforts to win her over he found a special place for her in the engine room, outside of his official domain, where she dries out. After a certain amount time and Dong-sik efforts to please her Hong-mae put away her misgivings. She discovers Dong-sik offers earnest security form the other members of the crew, who seek opportunities to exploit the situation to their advantage. The Captain Kang tries to manage the ever disintegration of morale of his crew, while the crew fragment into self-interest and bickering competitiveness. Dong-sik stands alone as the high moral figure in the movie and Kang holds sway over the ever-increasing disintegrating of civility among the crew.
Once the harrowing incident happens during the negotiation or more precisely the payoff between Kang and a Commander of what is the equivalent of the Coast Guard all hell breaks loose in the most unexpected manner. The un-ideal situation descends into pure madness that would be equal to the sobering moments of anything Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy could have delivered. This becomes the most engaging moments in the film that is instinctual and base as any predator could devise and exact. All member of the crew including Kang are faced with a grave moral dilemma that exacts a toll mentally and emotionally to survive this catastrophe that end in great human depravity. The only sanity that prevails the ever-growing love affair between Dong-sik and Hong-mae.
The decent into the madness of Haemoo’s is palpable at times that are cringe worthy, while the direction remains relatively dispassionate for the viewer only adds to the chilling reality this movie brings to the creating a believable and harrowing narrative. Haemoo is beautifully shot film and every detail is attended to sustaining believability of the unimaginably horrifying situation. These actors that inhabit the darkness and desperation of these characters deliver stunning performances that speaks to the grim elements and noblest behaviors that human’s are capable of being. Heamoo is a powerful statement of inhumanity and humanity, when men are placed in the most desperate of situations. Haemoo rings true as a fascinating tale portrayed in a stunning manner that is well worth the watch.