Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Himalayas: Climbing Everest with a Purpose
There is no crying on Everest. It could cause
frostbite. Nobody understands that better than alpinist Um Hong-gil, the first
Asian member of the fourteen highest summits club. However, he will return to
Everest on a dangerously emotional mission in Lee Seok-hoon’s
based-on-a-true-story The Himalayas (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
They don’t call Um “The Captain” because he
can’t climb. He was already knocking on celebrity status before he notched
Everest. However, he did not suffer fools on mountains gladly. Rather
awkwardly, that initially includes Park Moo-taek and Lee Don-gyoo. When they
first meet, the rookie climbers are schlepping the lifeless body of their
fellow university expedition member down the Nepalese mountain face. Not a good
first impression. Nevertheless, Park and Lee maintain their alpinist ambitions
and successfully make the cut for Um’s Kanchenjunga expedition (peak #3).
Things are indeed different this time, leading to some serious male bonding and
a summit for Um and Park.
For a while, Um and Park become an inseparable
tandem on the mountain. However, it all comes to a premature end when the
lingering effects of a leg injury force Um into retirement. Now, Park is the
Captain, but despite his experience with Um, he is still no match for the
erratic wrath of Everest’s “Death Zone.” To provide some closure for Park’s
young widow, Choi Su-young, Um and his old teammates will head back to Everest
on a longshot recovery mission.
There has been a bountiful harvest of good
mountaineering documentaries over the last few years (Meru, The Summit, Beyond the Edge), but narratives have been more
hot-or-miss. However, you can count on the Korean film industry to incorporate
plenty of tear-jerking into the budding genre. Frankly, the best comparison is
the excellent but sadly under-screened Japanese film Climber’s High, but without the acidic portrayal of newsroom
Hwang Jung-min is terrific as the gruff but
soulful Um. We can definitely believe he has spent time freezing on mountains
and absorbing the wisdom of the Himalayans. He has the right presence and the
proper reserve for an old cat like Um. On the flipside, Jung Woo has the right
earnestness and preternatural youthfulness for Park. Despite her problematically
comedic first appearance, Yung Yu-mi also packs quite a punch in her later
scenes as Choi.
Frankly, Yung is not the only one dealing with
tonal inconsistencies. However, the first act humor is never as broad or
shticky as the mugging that weighed down Lee Seok-hoon’s The Pirates. Most viewers should be able to deal with it,
especially if they want to see some extreme mountaineering.
You had better believe
Himalayas can be manipulative, but
Hwang Jung-min masterfully sells the best of those scenes. Unless you are just
a total scat-heel, there is one speech in particular (not even a climatic one)
that will have you choked up like its Lou Gehrig’s farewell address. That’s pretty
good filmmaking and absolutely first-rate work from Hwang. The Film will also make you
welcome the unseasonably warm winter. Recommended for fans of Hwang and
mountaineering pictures, The Himalayas opens
this Friday (1/1) in New York, at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Korean Cinema, Mt. Everest