Chuseok just ended here in Korea, and this holiday break has reminded me that in three short months I will be returning stateside. But, before I all-to-soon leave the land of K-dramas and Kimchi, there are a few remaining items I plan to check off my To-Do-While-In-Korea list. Seeing a Korean movie, in Korea, for one! NO subtitles. Yikes!! Join me as I share my recent Korean movie-going experience and my thoughts on the movie The Negotiation!
While the movie theater experience in Korea seems fairly similar on the surface, there are several small differences that will remind the random ‘waygookin’ they are not on their home turf anymore. So, here’s the insider low-down:
Time in Theaters- If a movie comes to Korea, you go see it and fast! Most movies only stick around here for 2, maybe 3, weeks at most!
Location- In the States, theaters are usually standalone structures with tons of parking, sometimes attached to your favorite mall. In Korea, movie theaters can often be found by looking up! The lobby for the Lotte Cinema nearest me is on the 12th floor. And it was an additional escalator ride up to the 13th floor to enter one of the many theaters – which are really small by American standards!
Reservations- Yes, you can just stroll in and purchase your tickets at the counter. BUT most patrons will arrive with seats pre-purchased. Why? Because in Korean theaters, you have to purchase a specific seat number. No race to find good seats, no dirty looks aimed towards the seat-saving stranger, no stress. It’s fantastic!
Snack Bar- The “normal” choices are there, but there are also options like onion- or Cheetos-flavored popcorn. Tucked inside the glass counter case, next to the sour gummies, you can find dried squid snacks too. Or if none of these choices are to your liking, you’re allowed to bring in outside food. YES! Here in Korea, no giant purse needed to smuggle in those favorite snacks!
In The Theater- Honestly, I think the best part of going to the movies is seeing the extra-long preview trailers. However, I was super disappointed, as there are NO previews in the Korean theaters. I had to make do with star-studded commercials (like Park Bo Gum promoting for Kakao), before the movie began promptly on time. No fifteen minute preview cushion here!
Bonus: Movie Swag- For every movie that is playing at the theater, there will be full-color, flyer-sized poster you can take home as a memento. Yay!
Now, on with the show!
NOTE: Between my basic Korean language skills, and context, I felt I was able to understand about 60-70% of what was going on. I definitely missed out on some key information, but overall it didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the movie. I plan to watch it again when it’s available with subs, so I can get the full story!
Starring Hyun Bin and Son Ye Jin, this hostage thriller started off with a bang and kept the suspense high, through a story filled with twists and turns.
Ha Chae-Yoon (Son Ye Jin) is a crisis negotiator for the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. She carries herself with a calm and cool-headed attitude. Min Tae-Gu (Hyun Bin) is a weapons smuggler for an international crime organization. He stages a terrifying hostage situation and Ha Chae-Yoon only has 12 hours to save the hostages. [AsianWiki]
As a non-native speaker trying to follow the plot, I was grateful that it started out simply enough. However, the story progressed quickly, and it didn’t take long for Ha Chae-Yoon to reluctantly take the lead on a high level, multi-layered hostage situation. Her superiors were much more concerned with covering up the matter than they were incurring collateral damage. But Chae-Yoon instead questioned Min Tae-Gu’s motives and her persistence succeeded in unraveling a cover-up with roots in the Blue House. While his tactics may have initially seemed like overkill, as Tae-Gu’s side of the story gets pieced together, there is a sympathy for the villain that emerges.
I found it most interesting that the main leads spent about 95% of the movie interacting via VTC monitors. While this could have easily made the characters feel disconnected and their interactions stilted, the actors navigated this aspect of the film well and the story progressed seamlessly. Also, the movie score complemented the numerous tense and urgent scenes.
Son Ye Jin played a strong and competent female lead, allowing her character to express her emotions, but also staying cool and focused on the task at hand. I also liked how she kept digging and pushing to find out what made the captor tick. She wasn’t content to just diffuse the situation, but brought the truth to light and pursued justice for the victims.
The main reason I ventured out to watch a movie sans subtitles was because I wanted to see Hyun Bin in his first role as a villain. I found his version of the antagonist both charming and chilling by turns. One minute he was calmly talking to the negotiator, then the next minute he was ruthlessly following through on his threats. His story takes some time to unfold, but by the end of the movie, I may have been rooting for the “bad guy”!
The rest of the cast was comprised of a variety of familiar faces. Most recognizable, though, was Kim Sang Ho. I may have giggled a bit when Ha Chae-Yoon’s caller ID for her fellow police officer read “Mother-in-Law.” His character offered up a tiny bit of humor, along with a big dose of behind-the-scenes support, as Chae-Yoon carried out her mission.
I totally walked out of the theater happy with my decision to check out The Negotiation on the big screen. This film had solid acting, and a well-written plot that kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat until the very end. I can only think of one thing that would have made it better— subtitles!
Have you seen it yet? Let me know in the comments!
Dramas with a Side of Kimchi