Did You Bit, Or Get Bitten?: Sector 7 (2011)

I am known for my over defense of South Korean cinema, because to accept that bad movies emerge out of their highly transgressive and decidedly evocative country would be to admit anything short of perfection, even though I am aware that South Korea, much like the other major players in the state of world cinema, are equally subject to rushed production, blockbuster bait films and a general concern for the capital success of a film over its aesthetic, social product.  This, of course, does not entirely mean that a film cannot be enjoyable, I will openly admit to finding far more pleasure in many popcorn movies than many, but again South Korean cinema manages to make this slightly different in the existence of The Host, Bong Joon-ho's 2007 monster movie, from which a film like Sector 7 is undoubtedly attempting to emerge.  The Host is a spectacle film that uses its heavy CGI reliance to overlay one of the most earnest and poignant looks at contemporary family issues, transcendent of nationhood or class.  Indeed, Sector 7 is a film that was shot with the intent of being seen in the third dimension and since my viewing was done in the home, it does lose that sense of excitement that pushed something like Pacific Rim from simply being alright to being outwardly engaging and thrilling.  Yet, even aware that I was losing a degree of the cinematic offering without the extra dimension, I was still quite aware of the way the film bookended its film with the special effects as a means to mask a half-hearted attempt at considering issues of group unity, capitalist consumption and to a further degree the validity of gender divides in a "post-feminist" society.  I use the word mask very purposefully, because not only does the spectacle of the film consume any possibility of this becoming a key element in the narrative, it also uses the glossy sheen to hide the clear inability of the director and writer to formulate a clear commentary on its characters, becoming nothing more than a set of cookie cutter characters slowly falling victim to a giant beast.  Sector 7 borrows from many classics in this vein, yet manages to pick the worst elements from each.

After a brief introduction involving a man checking the integrity of an oil pipe in 1985, only to be attacked by something off screen, Sector 7 focuses on a group of oil riggers off the coast of South Korea who have been facing a rather bad string of outings, each time finding little to no oil.  The leader of the crew, while not the captain is Cha Hae-joon (Ha Ji-won) a tough around the edges woman, who despite her demeanor shares deep feelings with one of her other crew members.  When yet another drilling fails miserably, the captain explains to the crew and an infuriated Cha that they will be leaving Sector 7 in hopes of finding a new place to drill.  This idea is changed however when Cha's uncle arrives, a higher up in the oil refinery's ranks, he explains that they will continue their efforts here, while also working more closely with a marine biology project researching a new species of fish that was discovered during a failed drilling.  Confused, but not lacking in hesitancy, Cha and her crew take up their task with great fervor, until things become weird when during a routine line check, one of the divers' harnesses breaks leading him plunging into the dark abyss of the ocean right in front of Cha's eyes.  This odd and tragic occurrence only begins a series of unfortunate events including an apparent suicide, before it is realized that one of the previously studied fish has appeared to mutate into a destructive amphibian being that is devouring the crew members one by one.  While mounting a defense, it is revealed that Cha's uncle, along with the larger corporation, had been breeding this creature for its particular genetic similarities to unrefined oil, hoping to tap into it as a future source for fuel.  While frustration, Cha is afforded little time to confront the issue, as members of the group are continually being killed, eventually leading to the point when it is only Cha surviving to face off against the creature on the deck of their oil refinery.  Her quick thinking and motorcycle based elusiveness afford her an opportunity to bait the creature back below deck, using the very drill that exposed it to the surface to destroy it.  The film then closes with a panning of multiple oil refineries, explaining that the Sector 7 refinery is a real place, currently existing in a state of inactivity awaiting a divide between Japan and South Korea over who rightly owns the oil from the rig.

It is this unapologetic shift into the real in the closing moments that make Sector 7 a particularly frustrating viewing experience.  I am not opposed to genre films or blockbuster movies taking on serious and real topics, but it is usually done so from the onset, as opposed to purely being an addendum to a film that aside from location really shares nothing with its geopolitical issue.  I find this sort of haphazard dumping of social, gender, and political issues into a film like this not unwelcome, but problematically frustrating.  The film, assuming that it can distract viewers with a showiness, that at times is quite captivating even in a non-3D viewing, and in doing so it can flippantly throw narrative tropes at the wall hoping those viewing can overlook their non-sticky quality as they slide down the wall, at no point proving evocative or integral to a plot that proves nothing more than a glorified game of cat and mouse, wherein the cat is outwitted by the sentient mouse.  I understand that this could serve as the films greatest metaphor, in so much as the creature, purportedly existing purely from emerging out petroleum, is therefore an extension on the rampant destructive nature of consumerism within a capitalist framework, but the problem with this reading is that the characters are either set up as being to naive or intensely self aware, whereas, to refer back to The Host, the family on display takes the emergence of the monster, in all it implausibility, as though it were yet another issue for them to face collectively, dealing with it earnestly.  Blame it on the 3D veneer calling attention to the fabrication of the film, but I at no point thought the plot to be attempting anything profound, beyond simply attempting to set up viewers for the intense and showy chase scene that encompasses nearly forty minutes of the runtime.  Other readings also fall to the wayside in the face of misguided attempts at establishing grounding, most problematically the one centered on considering Cha as a female authority figure in the face of questioning masculinity, sure she saves the day and sure it is intense, but to whom does she prove this feat, when the questioning is not quite the same as that mounted against Ridley in say Alien, but is assumed to carry the same levity hear.  Sector 7 wants to be much more than its immaturity will allow.

Key Scene:  The jellyfish do look quite wonderful and were the only point where I truly wished I were watching the film in 3D.

Honestly, avoid this film and just watch The Host instead.

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