Sometimes I wonder…why am I so hopelessly addicted to a movie which is basically about two guys on a submarine barking propaganda at each other? Then I watch it again, and I understand that it is because Yuryeong is about so much more than that.
The two guys are Min Su Choi and Woo Sung Jung, so there’s good reason to pay attention anyway. Both are fine actors with a strong background of well crafted characters in a lot of movies. Min Su is general Choi in Jackie Chan’s The Myth, and I’ve loved him in that role since the first time I saw it. His expression when he reminds the princess that she was to marry him is so touching.
But enough of going off topic – in Yuryeong he is referred to as the captain – we never know his name, and until he becomes captain, he is known only by a number, 202, as are all the crew of The Phantom, a nuclear sub that is supposed to be without nuclear capability. But then it’s not supposed to exist either, and neither is its crew. All are officially dead, executed or otherwise deceased, including 431 (Woo Sung Jung), who was supposedly shot by a firing squad.
The phantom submarine and its phantom crew are sent on a phantom mission so secret only the (original) captain knows what’s going on but it soon becomes clear that 202 and other members of the crew are planning mutiny. Having killed the captain and taken over the sub, 202 sets out to launch a nuclear attack on Japan. It’s pretty heady political stuff, and that’s where the propaganda comes in as 202 and 431 take opposite sides.
Yuryeong is filled with beautiful performances, character sketches created deftly and memorably – the cook who keeps a photo of his wife and child hidden in his jacket, the ‘stripper’ at the party before the mission dancing in a cage and giving perhaps a clue to his former identity, the bilge rat who keeps a real rat for a pet – could there be any worse fate than to be sealed up in a tin can, your own life lost, your new existence one of mind numbing tedium? These men can never see their family or friends again, never speak to anyone outside of the crew – even on their last night ashore, no one from outside can be invited, hence the ‘stripper’ who is actually one of the crew.
431’s past reaches out to haunt him, and he tries desperately to keep his humanity in this soulless existence, befriending and protecting the cook with his hidden photo, but as events gather momentum around him, he knows he cannot be a party to the destruction of innocent people, no matter what his personal political views.
The tension, the suffocating claustrophobia, the simmering tempers, are all beautifully realised by this amazing cast of actors. It is easy to become addicted to this movie. The ending is searing, dreamlike, inevitably tragic – but it stays with you long after the credits have rolled.