Really innovative, technically well-made (action) thrillers from western countries are a rare thing nowadays - if there are some, they are often "just" remakes from strong foreign originals. Easily digestible stories with a role model character are standard fare. It's quite the contrary in Asia where in the last few years some great productions were created which turn away from the usual good-evil standards and in which a bleak story with unwieldy and taciturn characters leads to a desperate ending. The renowned movie The Chaser by South Korean director Hong-jin Na from 2008 is one of these movies. Almost 3 years later he released his second movie The Yellow Sea, again with Yun-seok Kim and Jung-woo Ha, the lead actors from The Chaser.
Unfortunately, the movie wasn't as successful as its predecessor. It contains all the basic and typical ingredients - the story is told in a far too complex way although it basically is quite simple. In the original Korean theatrical version, which has an impressive runtime of 157 minutes, it's even more complicated than in the Director's Cut which was produced by the director himself for the foreign market (and for the Korean home entertainment market). For this DC a lot of single frame shots and short story sequences which draw the movie out were removed, a few new elements were added and the course of some scenes was changed.
But this 17 minutes shorter version, mostly used for the home entertainment market of many different countries, appears to be quite unwieldy both in terms of content and enactment, often draws out simple storylines and relies too much on chance at cost of the credibility of some incidents. Apart from an again good performance of Yun-seok Kim (of whom Hong-jin Na says that no one wields an axe as beautifully as he does, despite genre movies like Oldboy for example) the rest of the actors do a rather minimalist job and are quite arbitrary which is why you don't really follow the story interestedly.
Nevertheless, The Yellow Sea manages to keep away from the usual standards used in comparable genre movies and so it should be worth watching for fans of such subject matter although you must have a little patience and in comparison to more consistent movies like I Saw the Devil you should (must) lower your sights a little bit.
The US R-Rated version was heavily edited but it's based on the shorter Korean Director's Cut, but apart from some minor story cuts several short cuts typical for the MPAA had to be made due to depiction of action, violence and sex.
The German theatrical version is based on the US R-Rated version, although there existed a version before which was identical to the Director's Cut.
The Director's Cut runs 4 minutes and 3 seconds longer than the US R-Rated version.
27 Cut Scenes = 3 min. 54 sec.
1 Alternative Shots
1 Alternative Scene Course
Gu-nam arrives at the mahjong club in the evening, counts the money he made that day and goes in. After the cut to the inside of the club he has already lost basically everything and pays the winner on the table with his money. The latter asks if Gu-nam hasn't got more money, laughingly calls out to the club owner that they need a new player who's able to pay and then harshly tells Gu-nam to leave the table. His dejection immediately turns into anger, while standing up he overturns the mahjong table and wants to fly at the winner. The other players manage to keep them apart. In the meantime Mr. Myun enters the club and watches the scene.
In his fancy Gu-nam bloodily stabs Kim in a close-up.
Here again but from a slightly different perspective. The camera goes up to Kim's face contorted with pain.
The camera wildly moves up and down showing Kim stained with blood.
Gu-nam "simulates" a final stab.
Gu-nam "simulates" the severing of Kim's thumb. In the R-Rated version they used a shot in which Gu-nam stabs with the imaginary knife off-screen; in the Director's Cut the severing of the thumb is depicted in an explicit close-up.
A lot of blood is dropping down from the lifeless hand in a closer shot. In an additional shot Gu-nam sneaks upstairs and wipes his sweaty knife-hand on his coat.
The killer visibly stabs the knife in Kim's neck, a lot of blood splatters from the wound.
The killer pulls the knife out of Kim's neck, again a lot of blood squirts out of the stab wound.
An additional shot of the killer fallen to death. Gu-nam looks down a little bit longer and then goes up again pressed against the wall.
Gu-nam already presses the grind of his knife against the joint of Kim's thumb in an earlier close-up, the following shot of him also begins a moment earlier.
Some Joseonjoks wrapped up in plastic foil are beaten with a baseball bat.
A few single frames
Here again but from a slightly different perspective.
A few single frames
The man wrapped up in plastic foil lies on the floor a little bit longer.
An earlier shot of Choi. Moreover, Mr. Myun's men are shown disposing of the corpses in an additional shot.
Mr. Myun's men put the body parts in plastic bags in earlier, more explicit shots followed by a further shot of Choi.
A longer part of the story is missing: Tae-won leaves his house and gets in the car, his driver holds the car door open. Then he also gets in again while Tae-won checks his phone for calls. While driving Tae-won asks his driver if Choi tried to reach him, which he denies. Tae-won isn't happy about this.
Scene change: the investigating cops observe an office suite which the murdered professor Kim Seung-hyun had rented - under a false name, explains another cop who also gets in the car. The cop on the passenger seat adds that Kim owned seven establishments, four massage parlors and three bars. It's quite obvious that the professor is involved in some criminal machinations.
A further afar shot of the sex scene is missing.
After the position change a further shot was cut.
Gu-nam bloodily thrusts an axe into the hand of his pursuer in an extreme close-up.
A few single frames
In an additional shot Gu-nam hacks with the axe into the arm or the hand respectively of one of his pursuers. Mr. Myun's men keep pushing against the hatch.
Gu-nam swims away from Mr. Myum in additional front shot.
A part of the pursuit is missing: Mr. Myun steps on the gas and rams the car of Gu-nam, who in consequence gets jolted around. Parts of the car are scattered over the street.
Alternative Scene Course
Basically, both versions show the same but in different shots. The first shot of Gu-nam's careening car is clearly longer in the DC.
3 sec. (DC longer)
Gu-nam moves into the other lane and rams Mr. Myun's car, both of them get jolted around in their seats. Gu-nam drifts back again into the other lane and has difficulty avoiding a collision with oncoming cars.
At the end of this sequence is used some material which could be seen in the R-Rated version at 1:41:03 in alternative shots.
Additional shot of Gu-nam turning around to Mr. Myun.
A part of the car chase is missing.
The shot of Gu-nam's car is slightly longer, then Mr. Myun rams him again.
Another part of the car chase is missing: Mr. Myun rams Gu-nam's car again, he then gets jolted around. The cops are still pursuing them.
At this point the last shot of the sequence from 1:42:07 was inserted into the R-Rated version which is why it's slightly longer.
1.5 sec. (R-Rated longer)
The black car hurtles through the air a little bit longer before it lands on the street again.
Mr. Myun stabs the knife into the chest of his attacker in a close-up, he falls down and convulses in pain.
Mr. Myun pulls the knife out again in a close-up, a lot of blood squirts out of the wound.
Mr. Myun grabs the attacker who fell through the window by the hair and slits his throat in a close-up.
Continuity cut: Mr. Myun stands up earlier and shoves the dead attacker away from him.
Mr. Myun pulls the knife out of the attacker's chest, a spurt of blood comes out of the wound.
Mr. Myun raises his hand for the first stab.
The knife cut on the leg is shown in an additional bloody close-up.
A few single frames
Mr. Myun pulls the axe out of the attacker's head with a squishing sound and then turns to Tae-won.