Italian Premiere | In Competition 

Life is not good for female divers in the city of Kunchon in the mid-1970s. The opening of a chemical factory up the coast has poisoned the water, so instead of pulling up basketfuls of seafood as they used to, each time they dive into the ocean they end up with little more than a handful of tiny shellfish. The headstrong Choon-ja and short-tempered Jin-sook, who work with Jin-sook’s father on the fishing boat Ferocious Dragon, are not the type of women to just sit back and accept their fate. So when Jin-sook’s uncle suggests an alternative, much more lucrative use for their skills, they are more than willing to go along, even though it’s highly illegal.

Ships carrying imported goods often dock at Kunchon, where the local customs agency makes sure that no one evades the nation’s hefty import fees. But Jin-sook’s uncle has arranged for ships to dump several crates of valuable goods into the sea as they pass the women’s usual diving spot. Later when no one is around, the women pull the crates up from the ocean floor, deliver them to merchant ships waiting nearby, and collect a healthy profit. Soon the women are rolling in cash, and it seems as though the good times will never end.

This is the basic business plan at the heart of Ryoo Seung-wan’s highly entertaining Smugglers, which came out on top as the highest-grossing Korean film of summer 2023.

Kim Hye-soo and Yum Jung-ah headline a colorful cast of characters who are all trying to get ahead in life, but are perhaps too willing to sell each other out if necessary.

Smugglers is a film with a lot to offer the audience. It captures the vibe of 1970s Korea in a particularly memorable way, through its distinctive fashion, hairstyles and period details, as well as a large collection of songs by the talented young singer-songwriter Chang Kiha. The film is quite funny at times, thanks to the amusing ways in which the various characters all clash with each other. At times these conflicts break out into more serious physical violence, meaning that we also get several jaw-dropping action sequences, staged as only Ryoo Seung-wan can. There is even a climactic underwater fight scene that has to be seen to be believed.

People often describe Ryoo Seung-wan as a genre filmmaker, and it’s true that his movies are constructed out of innumerable genre elements. He himself is a huge fan of genre cinema, with an encyclopedic knowledge of film history. Nonetheless, the films he creates are almost uncategorizable, not fitting into any one particular genre or style. Like some other leading Korean directors, he seems to work in a genre all his own. Smugglers is a perfect example of Ryoo Seung-wan’s originality, and his unmatched talent.

Darcy Paquet
Film director: RYOO Seung-wan
Year: 2023
Running time: 129'
Country: South Korea
25/04 - 9:00 AM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
25-04-2024 9:00 25-04-2024 11:09Europe/Rome Smugglers Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine