Tidal Wave (2009) / Thriller-Action
aka Haeundae

MPAA Rated: R for disturbing images and language
Running time: 120

Cast: Sol Kyung-gu, Ha Ji-won, Park Joong-hoon, Eom Jeong-hwa
Director: Yoon Je-gyun

Screenplay: Yoon Je-gyun
Review published January 18, 2011

The filmmakers behind Tidal Wave have made the decision that, with just a little money (reportedly, the biggest budget for a South Korean film to date), they too can make a disaster film just as technologically impressive and horribly written as those blockbusters made by the likes of Roland Emmerich every few years.  They have succeeded in both.

Here, the impending disaster is a 'mega-tsunami', which, given catastrophic events in recent years in that part of the world, is understandable for a choice.  The impacted will be Haeundae, a popular tourist-crowded beach near Busan, South Korea.  With the earthquakes forcing the destruction of an island not terribly far off shore, a mega-tsunami force 100 meters high and traveling about 700 km per hour is likely bound to cause more deaths than any single natural disaster in human history.

Like its Hollywood counterparts (most notably, Deep Impact), what we watch prior to the special effects extravaganza is what passes for character development that is supposed to put a human face on the tragedy, such that we'll feel the mortal peril alongside the people as they struggle for survival.  However, in typical formula fashion, the characters are usually given comedic or romantic personalities, so instead of three-dimensional characterizations, we follow buffoons and would-be Romeos engage in a cavalcade of subplot antics that, once disaster strikes, don't really amount to anything.

As we all know a giant tsunami is going to obliterate the city, is there any interest at all in whether the fisherman and restaurateur, whose father had perished during the real-life Indian Ocean tsunami five years prior, will find a way to become a couple?  What about the geologist who is imploring the authorities to take action in anticipation of the strange seismic activity in the ocean, to no avail, and whether he can come to terms with his ex-wife and their daughter who doesn't know he's the daddy?

It takes about an hour of putting up with insignificant subplots and shrill, grating characters before we finally start to see the looming tsunami, followed by the massive death and destruction such an event causes.  The U.S.-produced CGI, though obvious, is nonetheless impressive, and if one were to score this film points solely on how much gargantuan destruction can be rendered with a budget that barely encroaches into double digit millions, Tidal Wave would be a very good example of this kind of film.  Alas, we've seen this kind of film before so many times that it even massive destruction isn't particularly exciting, but at least it isn't as unfathomably monotonous as the previous hour of nonsense that precedes it.

Only disaster-flick fanatics need apply, as this is every bit as bad as most of the American films of this ilk, except even more derivative and with characters so loathsome, the might actually find yourself cheering the tsunami on.  The effects, while impressive considering the limitations, just aren't enough to save the film from a disastrous fate far more upsetting to audiences than the one depicted within the film itself.  Wipe out.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2011 Vince Leo