If you plan on opening a new vacation resort, just call it quits. Undoubtedly, there is a giant shark, earthquake, or tidal wave waiting to wipe it out. At least, that is what Hollywood always told us, and apparently Korean filmmakers have caught on too.
Amidst a sea of sea of romantic interludes, there is a Culture Expo about to take place in Tidal Wave, right on the shoreline of Korea as an earthquake erupts. Why? That is how these things happen. Crossed lovers, scattered about the country, are in various phases of their relationships, or have done things they will regret in a few minutes as the water begins spilling into the city.
For Tidal Wave’s hour long, predictable set up, it does some things right. Humor is enjoyable, including a wonderfully amusing “meet cute” as a lifeguard saves a young girl from drowning. Relationships are generally complex enough to satisfy (if still shallow), although take up a significant portion of the script. That leaves the scientist to explain away in only a few scenes, which needs to be pushed as far as they will go. If you say “mega tsunami” six times and you still cannot get it through the official’s heads, it won’t work. Tidal Wave seems to forget it is a disaster movie in spots.
Once the waves hit, Korea’s most expensive film to date takes over with exceptional visual effects, occasionally falling into the realm of “merely adequate.” The initial wave pushes an entire sea freighter onto a bridge, leading to a slightly overdone sequence as a character tries to avoid being crushed by shipping containers. This is seated between scenes of electrocutions, people drowning, and buildings being toppled, making physical comedy relief out of place.
Contrived meetings once disaster strikes are groan-inducing, and last second saves taking away from the build-up of emotional impact. Tidal Wave is almost too happy. The most emotional death does not come from the tsunami itself, but from a personal choice. At least the script is not entirely lacking depth.
Tidal Wave seems to have been shot digitally, with some film footage inserted (possibly the underwater photography). There are scenes that fully showcase their digital origins for the worse. A long establishing shot of the beach 5:09 is awful, riddled with flickering buildings, garish edge enhancement, a contrast that runs too hot, and artifacting from this VC-1 encode. At 22:10, an entire three-minute scene suffers the same problem. Faces in the mid-range lack high fidelity detail, stuck with a rather smooth, unnatural appearance.
There are certainly close-ups that appear reference. At 13:52, the level of texture and definition on display is remarkable. Environments generally impress as well, as long as the high contrast edge ringing is kept to a minimum and slightly overblown contrast remains in check. Some aliasing is a bother (44:28 on the desk, 1:05:13 on the silverware), although minimal.
The color schemes of Tidal Wave carry very distinct palettes. You will likely notice the edges of the frame appearing discolored to shift the focus to the center of the screen. This is noticeable as the film shifts to a warmer palette usually, at times even into a rather hideous yellow tint on the early beach scenes. Flesh tones are otherwise natural and pleasing. The movie desaturates its color when the disaster strikes with no ill-effect, and in some ways appear slightly more natural, if lacking pop.
Black levels never attain true depth, generally middling around in a gray scale. Depth is certainly disappointing. This is again a fault of the digital photography.
Generally the first hour or so of Tidal Wave is forgettable in terms of audio. The opening is a rescue aboard a small fishing vessel, with aggressive surround placement as waves comes aboard and rain pours in from all angles. It is impressive, although certainly nothing new. Ambiance throughout is flat and uninspired, although certain musical numbers are wonderfully full and vibrant.
Obviously as the wave begins devastating the city, this DTS-HD (Korean or English dub) effort truly comes alive. Staggering levels of bass from underwater earthquakes does not compare to the wave blasting the coast. Even as it approaches and the effects spin around to provide a POV above the wave, the subwoofer delivers a steady stream of clean bass. It is not just the wave either. As shipping containers fall onto a bridge, they land with a satisfying thud, and an explosion not long after extends deep into the low-end.
Surround use is extensive, picking up the fury of the rapidly rising water as objects are being swept away. Despite the speed of the events, placement seems precise and immersive. The only moment called into question is that of a falling power line into the water. As the characters struggle to stay above the water, the generic crackling sound of electricity is placed in the surrounds for effect, but sounds slightly over-cranked and poorly balanced with the rest of the action. Dialogue is well handled, and certainly distinct.
Tidal Waves comes to US shores with a strong set of bonus features, beginning with 13-minutes of deleted scenes, and a six-minute gag reel. A base making-of feature runs for 45-minutes, a wonderful piece that lacks the usual promotional style. It is saddled with an additional nine sections, ranging anywhere from four to ten minutes each, focusing on special effects cinematography, and a wonderful piece on the sound design. Trailers for other Magnolia releases are included, and BD-Live support is listed but not functioning.