on May 15, 2003 by Wade Major
It's official. The best action films in the world are no longer made in Hollywood or Hong Kong but in South Korea and Thailand. In just a few short years, Thai pictures like "Muey Thai Warrior" and Korean actioners like "Shiri" have raised the bar on the genre by re-imagining familiar Hong Kong and Hollywood formulas and infusing them with a fierce new cultural and political perspective. The latest such entry is the Korean-made "Tube," a John Woo-style cross between "Speed," "Die Hard" and any number of similarly-themed blockbusters.

The film opens amid a hurricane of bullets as a gang of terrorists shoot it out with police in, of all things, a crowded airport. The stakes aren't yet fully defined, but the highly-choreographed mayhem does distill the major players: an ex-government agent-turned-assassin named T (Sang-min Park) and his arch-nemesis, a rough-and-tumble rogue detective known as Jay (Kim Seok-hun). Whatever history exists between the two is, at this stage, a bit cloudy, but one thing is crystal clear... it's personal.

But even that very impressive opener doesn't fully prepare audiences for what soon follows--a nonstop, edge-of-your-seat, 80-minute thrill ride aboard a hijacked, rigged-to-explode subway train that won't end until T and Jay finally settle their score.

Boasting production value that exceeds that of many $100 million Hollywood efforts, "Tube" appears destined for a Hollywood remake. It's doubtful, though, that even the most liberal investment will be able to duplicate what first-time director Woon-hak Baek has done here. A screenwriter and assistant director on "Shiri," Baek has learned his lessons well, mixing up the set pieces, plot twists and melodrama in a fashion that recalls the very best of John Woo. If there's a weakness to the film, it's the fact that it is so derivative on so many levels. The integration of the obligatory female--a pickpocket named Kay (Doo-na Bae)--also seems strangely forced, though Bae's appealing quirkiness makes it easy to forgive.

As encouraging as a film like "Tube" has to be for the burgeoning Korean film industry, the fact that its U.S. release is being handled by a small upstart like Silver Nitrate Releasing has to be seen as a disappointment. The fact that there exists no viable exhibition market for non-art-house foreign films has long inhibited the distribution of films like "Tube," most of them from Hong Kong and India. Before any future Korean efforts can build on the success of "Tube," Silver Nitrate will have to first insure that "Tube" succeeds. Starring Seok-hun Kim, Sang-min Park and Doo-na Bae. Directed and written by Woon-hak Baek. Produced by Yang Geun-Chan. A Silver Nitrate release. Action. Korean-language; subtitled. Rated R for violence and language. Running time: 116 min

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