April 09, 2006

HAAN (2005) Pearl Harbor double-agent

HAAN (2005, South Korea, a.k.a. HAN GIL SU)
Korean region 3 NTSC DVD

Disappointing WW2 espionage drama

The premise seemed very promising for this recent movie from Korea. A Korean double-agent playing the Japanese off against the Americans on the islands of Hawaii, just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Based on a real-life person, not much is actually known about what actually happened, giving the film-makers plenty of licence - unfortunately they don't provide much excitement or suspense in what should have been a nail-biting race against time.

The script clumsily describes contemporary attitudes and current offscreen events through chunks of exposition. The characters' relationships are simple and melodramatic, but without much drama. It's also confusing in places - there's one scene that ends with Haan being tortured and his little finger is about to be guillotined off - the blade descends, the film quickly fades out to black - next shot he's in a hospital bed and you can't see his hands. What just happened? Did he lose a finger or not? A 'non secitur' if you like. Very confusing.

Worse still are the anachronisms in the film. The US Naval HQ building looks like it was built in the 1970's rather than the 1940's, and in one scene they ride around in modern speedboats, jarring the viewer back into modern times.

The film clearly labels which characters are Korean and which are Japanese, using stereotypical signifiers like kimonos, sake drinking and lots of Japanese flags hanging around the rooms. Realistically though, the characters speak in the correct languages.

The climax includes the cheapest recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor that I've ever seen. A total of 5 American extras are onscreen at any time, and the explosions are all added digitally. A few reasonable shots of CGI Japanese planes have been made, but it's hardly worth trying to visualise this event on such a shoestring.

I'd still like to see a documentary about what was known about Haan and how much American intelligence knew about the impending attack. But this movie fails to convince with its version of events.

The Korean DVD (pictured above) has good, clear english subtitles on the main feature. Annoyingly they continue to appear when english is being spoken. The only extras are a trailer (made on video) and a brief look at one simple indoor scene being shot. You can also listen to 10 tracks from the soundtrack, from the CD option on the main menu.


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