May 19, 2008

Phantom: The Submarine - That Sinking Feeling


How much do some Koreans hate the Japanese? Enough to nuke Okinawa and then some. I'm talking some serious hate. And is this rage justified? Some say yes; one says no. As least, that's the set-up for Phantom: The Submarine (1999), a political thriller that argues both for and against violence as retribution. Since the angry thesis is made not just by an insurrectionist naval captain (Choi Min-Su) but also by his entire, mutinous crew, you do wonder a little about whether the lone good guy (Jung Woo-sung) is seeing the same big picture as his shipmates. Granted, the rebel against the rebellion understands the cost of violence firsthand. (He saw his father shoot his mother then escaped the same fate once dad was popped off by the military.) Yet surely, there must be a more persuasive case to be made against starting a war than I saw my mommy and daddy slayed. After a tedious convoluted opener involving a firing squad and an Orwellian relocation program, director Min Byung-chun generates underwater tensions in claustrophic confines lit in Christmassy reds and greens. Two Japanese subs are torpedoed. Another is dragged to its death. The friendly whale swims nearby and tries to enlighten the crew by singing its ageless song but these guys would rather hear screaming than really cool music.

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