Brief review: Lee Seok-hoon’s Himalaya

by Philip Gowman on 25 July, 2016

in Event reports and reviews, Film reviews and comment, Hwang Jung-min, Lee Seok-hoon

What do Himalaya (Lee Seok-hoon, 2015), Possessed (Lee Yong-ju, 2009) and A Better Tomorrow (Song Hae-seong, 2012) have in common?

Himalaya: the assault on Kanchenjunga

They are all Korean films which I have gone to a screening room or theatre to watch but couldn’t be bothered to stay to the end. When you pop a DVD into the machine at home it often happens that you lose interest half way through, but when you make the effort to buy a ticket or register for a screening, and go there hoping to enjoy it, you feel you ought to stay to the end. You have invested time in getting there and you don’t want to write it off. Sometimes, though, you just get to the point where you feel that you don’t want to throw good money after bad, and that your time would better be spent elsewhere.

I probably lasted the longest with Himalaya, throwing in the towel about 20 minutes before the closing credits. We had just got to such a preposterous point in the story that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief any longer. That takes some doing when the movie is based on a true story. Picture the scene: a mountaineering team comes out of retirement to retrieve the corpse of a former colleague from an inaccessible point high on Mount Everest. The leader of the team has a dodgy leg. The remainder of the team have let themselves go a bit since their mountaineering heyday. They are halfway up the mountain. They have just run out of food. They have only a vague idea where the corpse is. The weather is terrible and they have a window of three days (without food) before the weather will ensure that staying on the mountain means certain death. Frankly, I didn’t care. If they succeeded I wouldn’t have believed it, and if they failed that would have been a disappointing finish.

Until that point I had been reasonably entertained. Anton Bitel in his introduction had done a good job of bigging up the incongruous bromance between the lead mountaineer (Hwang Jung-min) and the younger inexperienced climber (Jung Woo) and playing up the comic elements. Probably too good a job, because these came across as nothing out of the ordinary: necessary diversions from a plot which would otherwise be just lots of climbing, emphasising the theme of humans battling against the elements and against their own doubts and inner demons. Pretty standard fayre.

Himalaya: great scenery

Undoubtedly the scenery was spectacular (though at times, in the close-ups shot in the studio rather than on location, you wondered if they had run out of budget for artificial snow), but there are only so many suspenseful moments you can take in a movie before you begin to resent what the director is doing to you. You feel manipulated. You lose enthusiasm for more. For me, that point came 20 minutes before the end.

Maybe it was indeed all true. I had just had enough, and thought my time would be better spent having a cup of tea.

Lee Seok-hoon (이석훈) The Himalayas (히말라야, 2015) SterneSterneSterneSterneSterne

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