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The ragtag crew of a fishing boat takes on a dangerous commission to smuggle a group of illegal immigrants from China to Korea, in this tense high-seas adventure co-scripted by South Korean genre-movie guru Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer).

A high-seas adventure with substance and heart, Haemoo is exactly why Hollywood is beating a path to South Korea's door. This gripping drama offers the tense, steady build of a film like Jaws — although in this case the threat is human.

Kang (The Chaser's Kim Yoon-seok) is captain of a fishing boat crewed by rough men who are used to the harsh realities of life at sea. Their regular fishing runs net them only a meagre income for their families back home, so when a more lucrative opportunity comes up, Kang grabs it. The job: smuggle a group of ethnic Koreans leaving China for new lives in South Korea. It's risky — and illegal — but offers the prospect of bricks of cash. Desperate migrants or dead fish: Kang doesn't care what he brings back to port if it means money.

His crew is a more complex mix of individuals, including Dong-sik (actor and K-pop star Park Yu-chun), an inexperienced young sailor. He strikes up a romance with a migrant named Hong-mae (Han Ye-ri), giving her a "first class" hiding spot in the engine room while the others are left in more dangerous circumstances.

Haemoo is based on actual events, which gives a sharp dimension to its story of crew members scheming, battling, and ready to exploit their human cargo.

Director Shim Sung-bo makes an impressive debut here, but his storytelling skill shouldn't be a surprise: he wrote the screenplay for director Bong Joon-ho's award-winning Korean noir Memories of Murder. Bong, fresh from the success of Snowpiercer, has returned the favour by co-writing and producing Haemoo with Shim. The result is a powerfully emotional drama with tension that tightens like a winch.

Shim Sung-Bo

Shim Sung-bo lives in South Korea. He co-wrote the film Memories of Murder (03) which screened at the Festival. Haemoo (14) marks his feature directing debut.

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