Sector 7 (2011)
Directed by Ji-hun Kim
In the past decade or so, South Korea has really made a name for itself in the world of genre cinema, making films which at their best combine excellent production values with smart scripting and wicked doses of dark humor. After seeing the trailer for Ji-hun Kim’s Sector 7, touted as Korea’s first 3-D film, I had high hopes that it would be another great Korean monster movie that offered up all those elements. Unfortunately, the results are closer to something like Chawz than The Host, and while it does have some entertaining moments here and there, it’s mostly pretty forgettable.
The title refers to an area south of Korea’s Jeju Island, where the crew of an oil rig is exploring for potentially vast deposits of oil, so far without any luck. Their superiors think that they’re wasting their time, but the crew members remain convinced they’ll find something there, none more so than headstrong Hae-jun (Ji-won Ha), the rig’s resident “tough chick”. You can tell she’s a tough chick because she does things like talk back to her superiors and engage in motorcycle races across the rig (!?). Their luck seems to change after the arrival of Hae-jun’s uncle, but after some crew members are found dead, they soon learn that a strange monster is picking them off one by one.
Let me just say that an oil rig is a great setting for a monster movie. It’s claustrophobic, dingy and, due to its isolation, offers a good reason for why the characters don’t simply get the hell out of Dodge once the monster shows up. Unfortunately, nearly every aspect of the film, from the dialogue to the plot to the characters, fails to live up to this great premise. Many Korean sci-fi/horror movies like to mix in large (and often unexpected) doses of humor to go along with the scares, but pretty much all of Sector 7’s attempts at humor fall flat. Many of the characters come off as more obnoxious than amusing, the most egregious example being a socially awkward crew member who gets stung by a cutesy, tadpole-like version of the monster and then spends the rest of his screen time with a cartoonishly swollen fat lip. Thankfully this character bites it pretty early on.
Ha Ji-won tries her best to make her character a believable “tough as nails” type, and she’s pretty good considering the film’s often lackluster writing and plotting, but she still falls short of being another Ellen Ripley. The monster – a toothy, gelatinous creature with a long, prehensile tongue – is decently designed and animated considering the budget (less than $10 million USD), but it’s far less memorable and believable than the monster from The Host, which is one of my favorite CGI creations of the past few years.
Sector 7 isn’t all bad. Some of the set-pieces, such as the final confrontation with the monster, manage to be pretty entertaining and it’s nice that it features a strong female protagonist, something you don’t often see in Asian cinema (or Western cinema now that I think about it), but ultimately I left the theatre thinking that this movie could have been so much more. At the end of the day, Sector 7 just isn’t that much fun, which - more than any script, acting or technical flaws - is one of the worst crimes a monster movie can commit.