Typhoon wasn’t the movie I was wishing for. What I wanted to see was a modern day Hero or House of Flying Daggers, but Typhoon just didn’t measure up. Unfortunately, the technical aspects of the movie almost destroyed it from the beginning. The first fifteen minutes or so were so incredibly hard to follow that I couldn’t be sure that I understood the plotline and wished that I had been at home watching the DVD so that I could restart and watch again. The action jumped all over the place and the subtitles were long and complex and didn’t stay on the screen long enough to get to the end of the last sentence. (I’ll have you know that I am an excellent reader and of above average speed without Evelyn Wood, thank you!) Eventually, though, I was able to adjust and, thankfully, the storyline calmed down and began to make sense as the flashbacks to the main character’s past answered the questions of the present. I’m pretty sure what director Kwak Kyung-Taek was trying to do was open his film in high James Bond-esque style, and while there was plenty of shooting, exploding, and dying, there needed to be more information as to why this was happening at this time.
However, even a weakly constructed movie contains elements that prevent it from being a completely forgettable total dud. Director Kyung-Taek uses the camera in a way that completely envelopes the viewer in the confusing, desperate, despairing hatred that defines the life of the chief antagonist and pirate, Sin; likewise, we are enveloped by the contrasting noble and righteous life of the protagonist, Gang—a Korean naval officer sent to stop Sin before Korea and much of Asia is destroyed. What develops is an achingly haunting story of a man so consumed by hatred and the need for revenge that his life is literally wasted, and in the end it is given away to a man who understands his passion but cannot allow him to live it any longer.
Sin is a deeply pious man. His devotion, however, is not to God or any noble cause, but to a profound and conspicuous desire to punish his country (Korea) for the brutal murder of his parents; the separation from his sister, the only living relative for most of his life; and the personal betrayal he has experienced—becoming a man without a country (for all intents and purposes). Sin’s mantra could be exactly what I saw voiced on a bumper sticker as I left the parking garage after the screening: Stop whining… plot revenge. From the moment that Sin’s sister points out to him that continuing to cry over the death of his mother negated the sacrifice that she had made to save them (she had used her body to absorb the bullets meant for them all), Sin purposes to survive and avenge himself and his family. This goal, of course, is not what his sister had in mind—and I am sure that if they had not been separated, Sin’s sister would have helped him to make better choices, tempering his hatred into a redeemed life. In fact, Gang recognizes the depth of the man, Sin, and in a letter to his own mother before he leaves on his mission to find and kill him, acknowledges that under different circumstances he would have welcomed Sin as a friend. There is great strength in Sin, but it is all wasted in self-pity and hatred.
As the movie progresses, however, it becomes clear that there is only one way out for Sin. He has lived his life so wrapped in the cocoon of hatred that he not only cannot, but will not, break out into the freedom of forgiveness and fly off into a new life. Even the restoration of his sister after 20 years of separation is bittersweet because he learns that she is dying, which only refuels his anger and absolute faith that, “this world is Hell.” He continues on his course to punish both North and South Korea by releasing balloons—carrying boxes filled with radioactive reactor dust from the Chernobyl disaster site—into a typhoon coming inland that will disseminate the radioactive dust over a wide area. All of the little cases have individual detonators that Sin will arm with his master detonator. But Sin dies; the detonator drops into the hold of his ship, the ship is blown to shrapnel, all but three of the containers never open, and Korea and Asia are spared. In the end we find out that Sin never armed the detonators, but it isn’t clear whether that was because of a reformed character or because he just gave up. Perhaps the hatred just got too heavy to bear.
On the drive home, I again found myself ruminating on the seemingly fickle winds of fate that many of the people I know believe determines the direction of their lives. I wondered again how people who lack a sense of purpose and hope can survive from day to day and deal with the pain, hurt, and disappointment that comes at each of us from every direction. I also thought about how easy it is for people to brood over wrongs done to them (some just imagined), blowing them up into hatred that last years and even lifetimes. How can people carry a burden like that? The answer is that just as Sin couldn’t, we cannot. This world is not what God intended it to be, and this life is only a preparation for a new and better world that He has prepared for those who seek and find Him. Metaphorically, Sin became sin by refusing to give up his own self-will and recognize that vengeance was not his meal to deliver. Despite his piety, he had no power to exact the price hatred demands; it would never be enough. And so… my conclusion? Sin was neither reformed nor did he just give up. He merely, in despair, paid with his life.
Too bad no one told him Someone Else had already done that for him…