Tomb of the River
South Korea, 2021, 119’, Korean
Directed by: Yoon Young-bin
Screenplay: Yoon Young-bin
Photography (color): Yoon Joo-hwan
Art Direction: Park Young-chan
Editing: Jeong Jin-hee
Music: Mok Young-jin
Producers: Nam Ji-woong, Lee Chan-nam, Song Jeong-woo, Kim Seong-jin
Cast: Yoo Oh-sung (Kim Gil-seok), Jang Hyuk (Lee Min-seok), Park Seong-geun (Bang-hyun), Oh Dae-hwan (Hyeong-geun), Kim Jun-bae (Choi Mu-sang), Lee Hyun-gyun (Choong-seop).
Date of First Release in Territory: November 10th, 2021
Gangneung is a city on Korea’s east coast that is becoming ever more trendy as a tourist destination. It played host to the ice hockey, curling and skating events during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, and its beaches in particular are a magnet for vacationers in the summer, resulting in a boom in construction of fancy new seaside resorts.
It’s one of those shiny resorts that becomes a point of contention in Tomb of the River, a gangster drama by first-time director (and Gangneung native) Yoon Young-bin. Yoo Oh-sung (Friend) plays Gil-seok, a powerful gangster who together with his boss Chairman Oh call most of the shots in Gangneung. To the extent that a gangster can represent civility and order, Gil-seok has earned the respect of his colleagues for his brutal honesty and his belief in tackling problems straight on. He even has a friend in the police force.
His trustworthiness is how he ends up with the largest share of the gang’s most ambitious project: a resort that promises to become Gangneung’s largest and most luxurious destination. But this resort has started to attract some unwelcome attention. Lee Min-seok, played by Jang Hyuk (The Killer), is a former hit man and henchman from Seoul who has decided to claw his way to the top by whatever means necessary. After a couple brutal moves he ends up as the second-largest shareholder in the resort, and then his attention turns to Gil-seok. Gil-seok wants nothing to do with this newly arrived business partner, but Min-seok is not the kind of person you can simply ignore. It soon becomes clear that a confrontation is inevitable.
Tomb of the River (the original Korean title is simply “Gangneung,” and the English title is derived from the Chinese characters that make up the city’s name) offers up a mix of the familiar and the new. As fans of Korean gangster movies are well aware, the actor Yoo Oh-sung was an instrumental figure in the genre’s development through his iconic performance in Kwak Kyung-taek’s runaway hit Friend from 2001. In that sense the character of Gil-seok evokes echoes of the past, and Yoo Oh-sung reminds us of the intensity and solidity he can bring to a role such as this. Jang Hyuk’s character represents a more chaotic, uncontrollable force, and their contrasting styles of performance are effective at accentuating that classic theme of the clash between a gangster’s code of honor, and an anarchic lust for power.
And ultimately, the setting does bring something new to the film. Ordinary Koreans probably don’t associate Gangneung with organized crime (the city is better known for its coffee culture and surfing), but Director Yoon makes good use of the resort as a symbol for how economic development is changing and in many ways destabilizing the city.
Yoon Young-bin is a native of Gangneung, the coastal city in which his debut feature was shot. In 2006 he directed the 20-minute short film Fragile: Handle with Care which screened at several Korean festivals as well as the International Festival Signes de Nuit in Paris. He also worked as a crew member on the horror film Possessed (2009). Tomb of the River opened in Korea in November 2021.
2021 – Tomb of the River