SECTOR 7 Review
A SCIFI JAPAN EXCLUSIVE
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details and images for a new movie.
The title of the new Korean 3D monster movie, SECTOR 7 (7광구, Chil gwanggu), refers to a real-life mining area that lies between the south of Jeju Island, Korea and the west of Kyushu, Japan. It is a continental shelf where great amounts of petroleum and natural gas are thought to be buried. Korea is not an oil-producing country, so it heavily relies on imported petroleum. To many Koreans, the real sector 7 means a dream that has not come true yet… someday, Korea could produce oil. Setting the plot against a place like that many Koreans feel strongly about, could give the movie SECTOR 7 a very realistic, emotional edge. Even the workers, who are the characters of the movie, could have eclectic sense of existence. Then, instead of petroleum, they encounter a monster— and a horrible one at that. No other monster movie from Korea has had a more promising premise than this.
But, unfortunately, SECTOR 7 could not demonstrate the full potential of its setup. There were many holes in the script and direction, and sometimes those holes were big ones. The monster shows itself quite a bit earlier than expected (though its full version would not be revealed until later in the film), but those early episodes regarding it were not brought into the central story— like oil and water, the monster and the plot did not interact well with each other.
One primary example of this comes early in the movie… a worker is stabbed on the upper lip by a pointed tentacle of the infant monster, and the lip swelled up badly. In a good monster movie, it might have worked as a prelude to the horrors to follow. But in SECTOR 7, it means nothing: the movie moves ahead three months, and the worker’s lip has healed. It just made an already stupid character seem even more stupid, which made me wonder if my disappointment was appropriate. Was I too accustomed to the formula of this particular genre? Was I one step behind the current trends for popcorn movies? Or was it just that the writer and the director had dismissed one of the basic rules of screenwriting; that every action, dialogue and situation must have some meaning in the context of the story?
It proved that the concept-setting of the monster was not that detailed in SECTOR 7. A connection between the biology and behavior of the monster and the plot is one of the most important factors in a monster movie. In SECTOR 7, it was apparent that no one cared about the fundamental question: why does the monster attack people? In the movie, the monster killed people and took them to its lair. The place was mostly covered with gooey mucus and there were some dead bodies here and there. Embedded in the slime were some sort of eggs or embryos. And that’s all. The scene was so short and meaningless that the viewer had no idea of what the monster wanted to do with them. Does it eat people? What is the mucus for? Do the eggs or the embryos need to feed on humans and that’s why the monster hunts them? There were no explanations in the movie.
And here’s the ultimate question… the monster is from the deep ocean, where the sunlight cannot reach. It belongs to the completely different ecosystem than that of the human species. Then how does it survive outside the ocean? The movie did not give any logical or scientific explanation.
Providing a plausible description of a fictional creature is often one of the most interesting point of any monster movie. It also helps ground the story and make it believable. Apparently, the makers of SECTOR 7 did not care about that. They only gave one fresh— but still logically implausible— set-up, that the creatures (yes, there were many) themselves were a great source of energy, which might be a substitute for petroleum. But it didn’t mean anything for the story.
The direction by Kim Ji-hoon had many problems, as well. The biggest problem of all was how the director showed the monster… it was the most disappointing part of this movie. There were no thought given for revealing the monster on the screen… it just ‘shows up’… it just ‘moved’… it just ‘attacks.’
There were some shocks, but did not help the tattered direction, which almost completely failed to give the viewers enough horror and thrills. I sorely missed the style of monster/creature movies in the past, which gave the same amount of tension even when the monsters were offscreen. In SECTOR 7, the interaction between the monster and the people is bland, and in most cases without any fresh approach to the subject matter. Many of the monster shots were nothing but mere imitations of other famous monster/creature movies. A few action sequences that involved a motorcycle and an oil-drilling pipe were worth seeing, though.
Since the monster part of SECTOR 7 failed to deliver, how about the human side of the film? Also bland.
There were hardly any character motivations that made the audience feel sympathy for any of them. Even the heroine, Cha Hae-joon (played by Ha Ji-won) has very thin, vaguely established background. Her desire to find oil was almost obsessive, but there were no convincing explanation for it. We learn that Hae-joon’s father, also an oil-prospecting worker, died in an accident at sector 7 about 20 years ago. However, the director doesn’t even show that was what fuels her behavior. She just barked at the other workers who wanted to give up after a year’s work without results, and she just ran and fought the monster when it appears. That’s all.
If the lead heroine is this thinly drawn, what about the others? I don’t think I even need to explain that.
There were several moments of comic relief throughout the movie. Those scenes were mostly the work of Park Cheol-min (MAY 18) and Song Sae-byeok (MOTHER). Early in the movie they occasionally succeeded in breaking the ice between the viewers and the characters. But after the monster appeared, their characters began to become annoying. In Park’s case, he delivered the most unecessary bit of comic relief during the monster attack scene. The situation was not 100% unacceptable, but it was so uneven that one could only wonder why this character had to react like that. This is one of many examples where the director failed to give enough thrills in the already bland movie.
Then how about the visual effects… did the visuals deliver the goods, at least? My answer is, it was 50/50. SECTOR 7 is, surprisingly, the first Asian movie that was enhanced via IMAX 3D technology. And also surprisingly, the 3D shots were most effective when the monster was not around. There was a feeling of depth when the camera showed the people and the fore/background. But many of the monster shots were just flat, and not as three-dimentional as expected. Some shots were good, with great sense of appearance and weight, but they were few and far between. It was so disappointing, considering that the monster itself was fairly formidable. It rushed about with great might, its tentacle was quite threatening, it had obsessive tendency for its games, and also had persevering lifeforce. With a realistic setting and some taut direction, this nameless beast could have become the new, fresh face of Korean movie monsters, an heir to the Han River Monster from the 2006 blockbuster, THE HOST(괴물, Goemul).
The most disappointing part of SECTOR 7 is that it did not take the geographical background seriously. The real-life sector 7, as I wrote above, is the borderland between Korea and Japan. In 1978, both countries made an agreement that from then on, sector 7 was a joint development zone (JDZ). It means that sector 7 must be developed by both countries at the same time. Unfortunately, Japan had a different idea about the sector 7. Korea saw it as economically feasible, but Japan did not and has been very passive about developing the area. All of this might have been the heroine Hae-joon’s real motivation, if the director could have successfully blended it into the story. Hence, SECTOR 7 does not have an effective social context as THE HOST did. And it also does not function as a straightforward, rock’em-sock’em monster movie. The movie is just a terrible waste of its promising potential.
Notes on the Release of SECTOR 7
The first press screening of SECTOR 7 was held on July 26. After the screening, the movie received mostly negative reviews from critics and reporters. The main complaints targeted the poorly-written script, uneven performances, some darkly lit VFX sequences and problems with the sound. The producers of the movie acknowledged that the movie was not 100% finished and was still in the post-production stage.
Six days later, on August 1— a mere three days before the theatrical release— the second press screening, this time in IMAX 3D, was held. As I wrote above, SECTOR 7 is the first Asian movie that was enhanced via IMAX 3D technology. Possibly to celebrate and promote this milestone, even a representative from the IMAX company was present at the screening. However, the producers also acknowledged that the movie was still not yet finished.
At the pre-show stage before the screening, director Kim Ji-hoon made a strange remark… that the movie would be finished probably around August 6. The date is two days after the movie would open in theaters, so it was apparent that the producers and distributors were desperately working on last-minute changes after the dismal reception from the first press screening. This second screening was also not well-received.
On August 3, a day before the opening, CJ E&M Pictures announced that the first showings of SECTOR 7 would be at 6pm on August 4. It was an unprecedented move, because it is common that new movies begin screenings from the morning of the opening day. CJ explained that the reason for the delay was the seemingly never-ending post-production process. This caused major controversy among the film-goers and the media trades, assuming that the movie would tank at the box office.
But on August 4, SECTOR 7 opened anyway, and surprisingly, it sold 180,000 tickets on the opening day. After three days, the movie crossed 1 million ticket sales and took first place on the Korean box office chart. This early rush to see the film was thought to be a combination of its massive promotion and audience interest in a movie that might cause controversy. However, the reviews from viewers were mostly bad, and the movie quickly lost momentum. The break-even point of SECTOR 7 is estimated to be more than 4.5 million ticket sales. As of August 14, the ticket sales of SECTOR 7 is 2.03 million and it is quickly losing both audience shares and theater screens. The final numbers are now estimated to reach the high 2 million or low 3 million. It surely will be the worst-reviewed summer movie of 2011.
The final version of SECTOR 7 omits some scenes from the press screening version. The first major omission occurs early in the movie, when Hae-joon and her boyfriend Kim Dong-soo (Oh Ji-ho) have a romantic moment on a buoy. It did not match with the overall tone of the movie and looked too much like a shiny commercial. The second is where a worker (the same one who got pricked on his upper lip) who, heartbroken after the unsuccessful effort to win the fellow scientist Hyeon-jeong’s (Cha Ye-ryeon) heart, broadcasts a sentimental love song very loudly, irritating the other workers. This seriously interrupted the flow of the movie, so it was nice to see it nixed.
And reportedly, the darkly lit VFX shots were mended and some flat-looking 3D monster shots were also fixed (compared with those from the first press screening). The VFX of SECTOR 7 was mainly achieved by a Korean company called Mofac Studio. JK Film admitted that the movie was mistakenly shot without enough lighting, as the 3D movies need more light than the usual movies because there are basically two cameras for a single shot.
Another noteworthy difference between the press screening version and the final version is the addition of subtitles at the end of the latter. In the last scene of the final version, the subtitles which described the current status of the real-life sector 7 were added. It seemed as a desperate last-minute decision, because the movie has nothing to do with the real sector 7. The producers wanted to link the movie with the reality that the sector 7 is not possible to develop because of Japan’s unwillingness, causing some sort of audience reaction. While it might have succeeded in stimulating mass interest in sector 7, those subtitles completely failed to add any meaning or realism to the movie.
For more information on SECTOR 7 please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- New 3D Korean Monster Movie SECTOR 7 Begins Production
- SECTOR 7 Update
- SECTOR 7 Latest News
- SECTOR 7 Photos and Update
- SECTOR 7 Teaser Posters and Trailer