Dear Miss Ha Ji-won
As you know I have followed your career with both interest and admiration over the years. I honestly believe you are one of your countries finest actresses, equally at home with being a “Scream Queen”, a blockbuster heroine, and also capable of touching and nuanced roles. So when I heard about your latest Blockbuster offering coming out I have to admit I was excited. Of course I was not expecting anything deep, but maybe a fun action romp about monsters on an oil rig, maybe something akin to “The Host” mixed with a dash of “Alien”. Then I started hearing about the troubles with the production, the poor press screenings, announcements that the film would be ready 2 days after the release date. Then the terrible reviews, and awful second week takings. Yet, I still had faith, here in my little world I am quite capable of seeing good things in the worst movies, and at the very least I had hope that your performance may well shine through.
The story in “Sector 7” shows promise. A group of people are working on an Oil Rig off the coast of Jeju island attempting to find Oil. Early on they discover some funny little fish creatures that the on-board Ecologist starts to study. The search for Oil has proven fruitless, and the Rig is about to be shut down, when a senior man from the Oil Company arrives, to announce they are going to have one last attempt. 3 Months pass, and whilst no Oil is found, the Rig is beset by tragedy. Firstly a crew member dies in an undersea accident, then the Ecologist apparently commits suicide, and then the Rig’s Doctor is murdered. Initially blaming a mentally challenged member of the team, it becomes apparent that they are not alone, and that some kind of Monster is sharing this location with them. Can the team survive? And is it quite the mystery that they all think it is?
Where to start? Well, a good monster movie really needs to hit to points. Firstly, the monster needs to be scary, and the threat needs to be real. Secondly, it always helps if there is more going on than a nasty creature chasing and killing people. Think of the motivations behind the “Company” of “Alien”, and the social commentary about pollution in the Han River of “The Host”.
Your latest film suffers on both scores. Firstly the monster lacks any kind of shocking reveal, some 40 minutes into the picture you just see it, big and bold in all its glory. There is no sense of foreboding or threat – it is just a big lumbering brute – totally at odds with how it may have been portrayed in the killing of our Doctor. The idea of being trapped in an Oil Rig with some creeping threat is lost when something the size of a bus is lumbering around. And then the subtext is also muddled. I understand that a nation like Korea that has no Oil reserves of its own would very interested in finding their own resource, and the film tries to suggest that this creature may be some kind of manageable energy source. But the idea is never explored. Not only that, but the creature makes no sense. Why did only one of the little fish things get this way? What on earth made it grow so huge so quickly? Why would an undersea creature have legs, be able to breathe air, and be so flammable?
I can’t believe I am saying this, but the film lacks any kind of believability – do any of the film-makers understand what it takes to run an Oil Rig, even one which is just doing Exploration? You would certainly need more than the handful of people on board. And when you factor in that 2 people seem to be managers, there is a Doctor and an Ecologist in this group, there really does not seem to be enough people about. Not only that, but do they think there would be time to have exciting Motorbike races around the rig (heaven knows how two Motorbikes even got there). Would they even employ someone like our mentally challenged friend who seem to have no useful purpose on the Rig? And why would there be a Flamethrower aboard? A Gun I can just about stomach, as well as the Emergency flare device, but a full-on Flame Thrower? Please.
Even when the film builds up some 40 minutes of quiet, trying character development, it falls flat. Everyone is a cipher, most do not even get names. Your own romance seems an afterthought (although I do know some of the early scenes were cut to make the film ‘more exciting’). The moments of homage range from the ill-judged (the “Jaws-my-scar-is-bigger-than-yours”) to the obvious (“Ripley-face-to-face-with-the-Alien).
I am fortunate that I did not see the film in IMAX 3D, as there were no obvious moments where it would have helped in the scare stakes, and so much of the film is woefully under lit I wonder with the additional 30% brightness loss that 3D gives you whether anything would be visible at all. Ironically, the best scenes did involve the aforementioned Motorbikes, which is a shame as they belong in a totally different film altogether.
Even you, my dear Ha Ji-won, seem to be bored by the whole endeavour, not helped because you do seem to be the only capable person on board, and eventually you are reduced to scowling and running around. Watchable as ever, but utterly wasted.
Your film disappoints because it is not only badly thought out and poorly executed, but because so much money has obviously been thrown at it. Lots of the CGI are halfway decent to be fair – but it is a pale shadow of the films it is obviously inspired by and must desire to be like. Other than having you in the film, and a couple of nice scenes, I find nothing here to Recommend.
Still, you are allowed a failure or two – I still eagerly await your next film.
Your Servant and Fan