WTF ASIA 90: Boat (2009)

Politically and socially, South Korea and Japan seem to have a chilly relationship. When it comes to crime, though, everything is chill.

This WAS on Amazon a few years ago, but no more. It is online, though. Approximately 115 minutes.


Hyung-gu takes his little boat and travels around 250 miles from Busan in South Korea to Yamaguchi in Japan. And back. Officially, he goes to Japan every week or so to bring kimchi to his boss, Bo-gyung, who likes his sister’s cooking; in reality, Hyung-gu is smuggling drugs. Hyung-gu accepts this explanation because he has considered Bo-gyung to be his family after his mother ran away when he was six. Bo-gyung keeps up the charade because he considers Hyung-gu to be stupid.

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It seems like the only Japanese that Hyung-gu knows is certain songs, and his only real experience there has been going to karaoke clubs with Bo-gyung’s son Takashi and cavorting with random Japanese women, but that does not stop him from wondering if he could stay in Japan and work under the man whom he calls his Uncle.

The charade of delivering kimchi is pretty much dismantled when Hyung-gu’s bosses in Korea tell him to ferry a captive from South Korea to Japan. Actually it is dismantled before then when Bo-gyung happily eats kimchi that had fallen on the ground and does not seem to notice, but anyways. Hyung-gu does not want to do this, but he is given no choice. He takes the captive to Japan and brings her to this empty apartment building with the help of Toru, his main Japanese contact whose grasp of Korean is only slightly better than Hyung-gu’s Japanese.

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Toru leaves to get Bo-Gyung while Hyung-gu waits with the captive. Eventually, though, it looks like some guys are coming after them and escapes by setting fire to the apartment…or pretending to do so. He manages to carry the captive out of there, but she eventually breaks free of him and runs off into a garage, though she still is blindfolded and has her hands tied.

Hyung-gu calls Toru, and they both try to subdue the captive. Although her hands are tied and she is still blindfolded, she is kicking wildly. When things seem to be reaching a stalemate, she makes them an offer. She will give them $500,000 if the bring her to her father instead of to Bo-gyung.

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The captive is Ji-Su. Her father worked for Bo-gyung until he stole $2 million dollars and ran off. Bo-gyung wants to use Ji-Su as bait to lure out her father and get back the money. Ji-Su knows that her father did a stupid thing, but she still worries for him, especially since he has diabetes. She asks Hyung-gu and Toru to find him before Bo-gyung does and allow the two of them to disappear. Toru seems to be considering this deal, but Hyung-gu is completely opposed to this, given his loyalty to his uncle.

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It turns out, however, that Toru has been playing a bit of a con on Hyung-gu. It is a bit complicated, but let us just say that it poisoned the relationship between Hyung-gu and Bo-gyung. Also, Toru’s grasp of Korean is much better than he had let on. Hyung-gu is infuriated, but Toru says that it will be impossible to reason with Bo-gyung at this point, and it is better to just find Ji-Su’s father and run off with his share of the money. When Hyung-gu demands to know why Toru wants the money so badly that he would do all of this, Toru takes Hyung-gu to see his family.

Toru’s family consists of three nephews, the youngest of whom is a baby with a medical condition. There is also a grandmother who seems to be going through a mild case of dementia. And then there is the mother of the nephews, Toru’s younger sister and wife of Bo-gyung’s son Takashi. Apparently, the money from Bo-gyung and Takashi does not trickle down to that part of the family, especially since Takashi had not seen them in six months. Toru insists that everything he does, including this current scheme that he has pulled on both Hyung-gu and Bo-gyung, is merely a means to provide for his family. Hyung-gu sort of starts to see Toru’s side of the story, and they slowly and uneasily start to bond over attempting to find Ji-Su’s father before Bo-gyung finds out what happened.

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Boat, or The Boat or No Boys No Cry or House, is primarily about family. Hyung-gu has no family, so he has attached himself to Bo-gyung. He also has a history with Bo-gyung’s older sister, but there may (it is unclear) have been some sexual dalliances when they were younger, and she frequently tells him to stop being so beholden to Bo-gyung. He never actually lived with Bo-gyung, but considers him family, and Bo-gyung plays along. Deep down, Hyung-gu knows that Bo-gyung is taking advantage of him, but he does not really mind being at the bottom rung of the gang, even referring to himself as a dog.

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Toru, on the other hand, openly willing to debase himself and his sister simply to earn money to provide for his nephews. Unlike Hyung-gu, he has not accepted his lot in life and wants to make things better for his family, or at least prevent them from falling apart too badly.  He employs tactics that are not necessarily protective of them. Still, no one else in the family seems able to step up. His sister seems to have selective maternal instincts, particularly concerning the really young one with the medical condition. The grandmother is in no condition to take care of the boys either. And Takashi is pretty much out of the picture. This also means, however, that Toru has sacrificed a life of his own for his family.

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Family is also an important aspect for other people…or at least in a sense. Bo-gyung uses Hyung-gu’s need for a family to get him to do his bidding, and getting kimchi from his estranged sister is merely part of that manipulation. Ji-Su is so desperate to make sure that her father is okay that she agrees to make a deal with her own kidnappers. Takashi is…well…not a family man, it seems.

There is also the notion of what it means to be a man. Hyung-gu is boisterous. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He is eternally loyal. He is loud. He is impulsive. He is lost and alone. Toru is reserved. He is ambitious. He is intelligent. He is cynical. He is mean, sometimes to the point of cruelty. He is always planning ahead. He is quiet unless he is pushed to the edge. He is self-sacrificing in the face of family, but always dominant. He is desperate and determined. Some have argued that the characterizations of these two men play up on stereotypes of Koreans and Japanese, but I will not go down that road. Maybe that is true, but I am not going to try to figure out how it is.

This movie is…well…it is kind of sad. Still, there are a few funny parts, mostly involving Ji-Su. Upon rewatch, there is a sign of her personality before we even know of her existence, as the man talking to Hyung-gu about taking her to Japan seems to have suffered some injuries. The payoff for this, of course, Ji-Su trying to fight off Hyung-gu and Toru with just kicks. There are also a few bits of humor regarding the language barrier. And then there is this small exchange between two characters who do not share a common language.


Toru’s Sister: Hey! Who said you could wear my clothes?

Ji-Su: Relax. I’m just trying it on. You’re ugly when you’re mad.

Toru’s Sister: Huh?

And with that, this manly man’s movie passes the Bechdel Test through pure technicality.

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This movie is somewhat slow and contemplative. Not to an extreme level, but more than what a plot synopsis might suggest. Nevertheless, if you let it draw you in, you might have an enjoyable experience.




WTF ASIA 91: Parched (India: 2015, approx. 117 minutes)


Available in Canada and the United States. Or maybe try Einthusan.


WTF ASIA 92: Death By Hanging (Japan: 1968, approx. 118 minutes)


Available in Canada, the United States, and maybe some other countries.