Firecracker of a Film That's Something of a Dud

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Firecracker of a Film That's Something of a Dud

"Siren" - a Korean-made film about fire-fighting, has been the talk of the town - even before its release.

Directed by Lee Joo-yob, the action movie will premiere tomorrow in Seoul and audiences are burning with anticipation.

The studio pulled out all stops in making the film, going so far as to bring in the Hollywood special effects team that made the Ron Howard film "Backdraft" (1991) - a blazing success.

The budget for "Siren" - four billion won was poured into the movie - added fuel to the firestorm of speculation. The producers hope the movie will become another domestic blockbuster, on a par with Korean-made box office winners such as "Swiri", "Pichonmu" and "Joint Security Area."

But sometimes in the highly volatile world of filmmaking, the harder they come, the harder they fall. In other words, all the hype may just go up in a puff of smoke.

"Siren" is a case in point. The potential was there, and indeed, it was a bold attempt to release another homegrown blockbuster with international appeal.

The storyline has all the ingredients of an action film. The plot centers on two firefighters who are friends, albeit with very different philosophies about firefighting. Toss in a passionate love story, and you might think the groundwork has been laid for an incendiary cinematic experience.

But the movie lacks momentum and there is a noticeable lack of character development in the supporting roles. In this sense, "Siren" lets the audience down. The human element seems secondary.

The interaction between the two main characters, Joon-woo (Shin Hyun-joon) and Hyun (Chung Joon-ho) is not allowed to develop. Joon-woo's nightmarish childhood experience has given him a psychological need to rescue others, no matter the cost. In contrast to Joon-woo's compulsion, his colleague, Hyun, is more rational.

But the movie fails to make clear exactly why they are in conflict. One wonders if the parts of the film that might have further explain the complexity of their relationship wound up on the cutting-room floor.

This keeps the film from achieving a degree of intimacy. The performances seem suppressed as well. The actors are wooden, as if talking to a wall rather than each other. Yae-rin (Chang Jin-young) the heroine, isn't much help. Her passive, do-gooder role doesn't mesh with the main conflict.

Likewise for Hyun-seok (Sunwoo Jae-duk), who has lost his wife and a daughter in a fire. Furious at the firefighters who failed to save his family, he becomes an arsonist, with tragic results. But his role, while an interesting diversion, does not fit with the love and friendship theme of the film.

The most hyped spectacle of the film - which will not be given away here - was not quite what I had expected. It is enough to say that the film's budget - about 400 million won, a huge film budget by Korean standards - was spent on special effects. It's up to the viewer to decided if they got enough bang for their buck.

The producers have tried to do too much. The apparent idea of capturing two rabbits at once --mixing serious drama with spectacular scenes -- has ended with the movie missing out on both counts.


by Park Jung-ho

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