In the last ten to fifteen years, South Korean filmmakers have been working extra hard it seems at regaining their spot in the world of cinema with notable features in a variety of genres. Chan-wook Park could be argued as the filmmaker single-handedly leading the way, mostly because his name is more widely recognized after the crime-drama 'Oldboy' and the vampire horror film 'Thirst.' But that's another topic. Right now, the point is that many of the projects coming out of the country are interestingly pushing the boundaries of genre films, even as they keep to and somewhat reinforce the formulas they encapsulate. Whether they are personal dramas ('Secret Sunshine'), war epics ('The Brotherhood of War'), romcoms ('Sassy Girl') or teen-sex comedies ('Sex is Zero'), there are plenty more good movies coming out of South Korea than there are bad ('Dragon Wars').
This is where 'Sector 7' comes in, a middle of the road creature feature set on an isolated oil rig in the Pacific Ocean. There's nothing particularly special or unique about the movie, and it doesn't compare to the great films mentioned above. ('Dragon Wars' is in a league of badness we can discuss some other time.) Yet, it works decently well as a straightforward popcorn alternative to typical Hollywood blockbusters, strangely abiding by the rules of the genre while also oddly feeling fresh and unique. Perhaps, part of this comes from my fascination of how these filmmakers imagine American movies within their own shores. There's a sense of imitation along with admiration as we catch a whiff of Michael Bay's 'Armageddon' in the opening moments. Only here, the prospective love interest (Ji-ho Oh) surprises by not going as expected.
Fueled by a familiar plot and a cast of stock characters which require little screen time before jumping into the action, the script from Je-gyun Yun reminds of a combination of 'The Host' and 'Tidal Wave,' which Yun also penned along with 'Sex is Zero.' The ugly monster, which we are made to suspect surfaced accidentally from the endless drilling of oil and chases after everyone like a greasy elephant seal, looks like a distant relative of the creature from Joon-ho Bong's still-reigning box office smash in South Korea. The movie's similarity to the disaster genre comes mostly from Ji-hun Kim's directing, creating a consistent, ominous feel of impending catastrophe, which apparently seems to work wonders for an otherwise standard storyline of secret agendas and various deaths.
As characters spend time with each other barbequing while sharing scar stories or unbelievably race on motorbikes around the offshore platform, we're clued in to something sinister moving within the shadows. A couple subplots keep us busy, however, while we wait for the inevitable. The main one is the growing tension between our heroine Hae-jun (Ji-won Ha), who everyone affectionately nicknames "Hard-Ass," and the rig's boss (Jeong-hak Park) over her gut-feeling of striking oil in their specific region. After being ordered to shutdown, a visit from Hae-jun's uncle (Sung-kee Ahn) encouraging them to continue digging raises some suspicions, made all the more likely when he's quick to believe the crazy story about a monster killing everyone. It's take a little while to finally get there, but it's a fun, slow build towards the relentless action that follows.
Beneath all this mayhem about some ghoulish beasty from the lower depths of the ocean hides a clever message on the moralities of our planet's finite, nonrenewable resources. But it's not the message you'd expect. Added to that, audiences are made privy to a few more facts concerning the region off the coast of Jeju Island where this story is set, creating a weird sense of patriotic urgency. You have to watch the film through to the end to see what I'm referring to, but at least you'll have a good time seeing some rather decent CGI-effects. By all accounts, 'Sector 7' is still a low-budget B-movie — your standard creature-feature with mild aspirations of the disaster formula typical of summer blockbusters. Nonetheless, what it does, it does quite well, making it yet another nice surprise of genre filmmaking coming out of South Korea. And I'm sure it won't be the last.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout Factory brings 'Sector 7 – 3D' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc. It's housed inside a standard blue keepcase with a cardboard slipcover and goes straight to the main menu with a still photo of actress Ji-won Ha. A 2D version of the movie is also included on the same disc, but viewers are not given an option to choose prior to startup. I can only presume the player will automatically detect the version according to the machine's capabilities.
Filmed natively in 3D, 'Sector 7' makes quite the splash on Blu-ray with a fantastic 3D presentation.
The picture quality is not always perfect, showing a bit of very minor banding during several scenes in spite of the dark glasses, but overall the 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 encode is highly impressive. There are also a couple moments of aliasing, most apparent around the window frames at the 34:45 minute mark. Again, they're not glaringly obvious distractions, but noticeable nonetheless and worth pointing out.
On the positive side, the filmmakers make excellent use of the technology to draw viewers into this overly simplistic creature-feature. Dimensionality is often extraordinary with actors and the monster seeming to move within a three-dimensional space. The picture penetrates deep into the screen with background info appearing as if in the far distance. Several scenes provide an excellent pop-up effect with clean separation between objects, especially the bright, sunny exterior shots with characters moving about the oil rig. Some of the poorly-lit sequences obscure the finer details on the walls a tad, but those same scenes create a wonderful sense of space as well. A few shots offer the standard 3D gimmick effect, but much of the time is spent on generating an immersive feel and it works terrifically well.
The rest of the transfer, taken from a combination of 35mm and digital HD cameras, comes with comfortably bright contrast levels, giving the picture a nice vivid appeal. However, they also seem slightly boosted since there is a tad of ringing around the edges and some very easy to miss posterization in the highlights. Blacks are quite rich and inky with generally strong shadow delineation. The color palette is accurate and bold with cleanly-rendered primaries and lush secondary hues. Facial complexions appear healthy with sharp, lifelike textures, exposing every pore on the faces of actors during close-ups. Fine lines in every room of the rig and on the greasy machines are highly detailed and crisp, making for a first-rate high-def 3D presentation.
The movie arrives with an equally impressive DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that strives at delivering the biggest and loudest presentation possible. Surrounds are constantly employed for subtle atmospherics like crashing waves, falling rain or thunderous wind. There are even moments of helicopters flying overhead or from the back of the room to the front, and it sounds quite convincing with fluid panning and directionality. On several occasions, we hear metallic pings and thumps in the rears, meant to make the listener think someone or something is moving behind or above. Granted, they are silly gimmick effects, but they work great with the visuals, generating a fun and immersive atmosphere that roars to life in the final moments when Hae Jun battles the monster.
The musical score also takes part in the rear activity, keeping viewers engaged during the quieter segments, but much of its strength comes from filling the front soundstage, creating an imaging that's wide and welcoming. Dynamics and acoustics are detailed with excellent clarity in the upper ranges, which is especially handy when the mammoth creature roars and crashes into everything in sight. Although lacking the sort of authoritative, booming bass you'd expect from the explosive action on screen, the lower frequencies are fairly responsive and deep nonetheless, particularly in the last quarter of the movie. Through all this, vocals are precise and very well-prioritized, making for an enjoyable lossless mix that genuinely adds more excitement to fairly standard plotline.
'Sector 7' arrives with a small and inconsequential assortment of supplements.
In spite of its easily recognizable creature-feature formula, 'Sector 7' manages to entertain with a slow build towards an action-packed finale. Granted, most all of it is an infestation of CG artificiality, but it's amusing and fun nonetheless. The simple plot is aided by an excellent 3D video presentation and highly enjoyable lossless audio. Supplements are pretty weak, but those hankering for more 3D movies won't be disappointed with their purchase.