THE SILENT SEA, More Brilliance From the Korean Film Industry, A No-Spoiler Review of the Netflix Miniseries

First, the Short Review

6 Reasons I Recommend THE SILENT SEA

  1. Beautiful production overall, including visuals that underlie the creepy vibe 
  2. Featured a number of my favorite Korean actors, a few you might recognize if Squid Game was on your watch list this past year
  3. Plenty tension and surprises/frights
  4. A number of science fiction and haunted house tropes embedded in the story and various characters (see more in longer review)
  5. The relationships and particularly, the relationship to authority feel authentically Korean. (also, see longer review)
  6. You know I love the miniseries genre, 1-hour installments of great storytelling that comes to a conclusion without an agonizing cliffhanger

 

Bae Doona as Dr. Song

Longer Review

SILENT SEA is the story about a mission to the moon to find water. I rate this series PG-13. No sexual content in this production, but there are dead bodies, and some gore. 

The first episode quickly gives the viewer the high stakes for this mission. Drought has plagued the Earth. Water is the resource most valuable and due to its scarcity, the planet has become a wasteland. Water is rationed to such a degree, many have suffered physically, billions have died. The wealthy nations have gone into space to find a water source. Most abandoned the idea of finding water on the moon after searching, but the South Korean government kept snooping. There has been a top-secret program at a large moon station that was believed to have borne fruit, but suddenly…the experiment falters. Everyone dies all at once on the moon station. The earthbound directors, including Heo Sung-tae (pictured near end of review) initiate another mission to go to the station and investigate the truth, but secrets pulse underneath the surface of this mission and become one aspect of tension in the story. The authorities hold their cards close and the military and science leaders do not push back, though they suspect something fishy. This may or may not be an aspect of Korean-specific deference to authority, but the screenwriter exploits what I understand as deference in a way that serves the story. Also, this is where the nuanced acting plays such a powerful role in the unfolding of the narrative. The audience can see in the face of Bae Doona, the slight suggestion of twitch, a blink, a stern jaw…we see it, but barely and it helps us know that she understands that she is being deceived. Yet, in most of the outward behavior, she acts the true soldier. Doona is great at this nuanced acting, but she’s just one, among a number of these performers, who pull off such nuance.  In my mind, THE SILENT SEA showcases superb writing and better acting than Squid Game. Click for a review of Squid Game

 

Gong Yoo as Captain Han

Once the mission lands on the moon, what unfolds reminded me of Ridley Scott’s Alien, in all the best ways. Yes, there will be corpses, tunnels, darkness, betrayals, a terrible and contagious sickness, but there will be one character who keeps her eyes on the prize. Dr. Song (Bae Doona) is intent on discovering the truth. In part, she seeks the truth because her sister is one of the corpses and the holder of many of the secrets. Doona as Dr. Song, pictured above, is a female lead in the Korean zombie series, Kingdom. To see my review of Kingdom, click here

The somber team after crash landing on the moon

I beat this drum a lot but I do feel that Netflix streaming continues to find the best international productions and when it comes to science fiction, the Korean film/media community is putting out a lot of great product. Produced by Jung Woo-sung, directed by Choi Hang-Yong, who deftly handles the brilliant storytelling of screenwriter, Eun-Kyoi Park. Honestly, I think I could teach a five-hour course on writing with this series, moving scene by scene through the screenplay, in terms of a classic sci-fi thriller. Fun fact, this story (as did Scott’s Alien), closely follows the haunted house template. That means there are a few predictable tropes. The audience knows that the mission is doomed (at least the mission as it was originally conceived) as one by one, the team gets whittled down. Who will remain in the end…that is what the audience wonders. Regarding the various characters, the majority of them hold their own, each having his/her own arc, including the wise-cracking military scrub who just wants to go home…a longing the audience suspects will not be realized.

Heo Sung-tae as Kim Jae-sun

I highly recommend. THE SILENT SEA, and suspect that Netflix now has me pegged in its algorithm as a person who loves Korean-produced thrillers/sci-fi. I might need to give the Koreans their own category on my site. The product is so good, I can’t stop watching and when I watch, I always review. 

Review of THE EXPANSE, No Spoilers

John Mayberry

I am excited about this post, a first guest post for allscifiallthetime.com, written by a PhD and a math nerd at that…

It is my pleasure to introduce fellow SciFi fan, Dr. John Mayberry, an Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. Dr. Mayberry teaches a wide range of courses in applied math and statistics. He first became interested in science fiction and fantasy after reading Susan Cooper’s the Dark is Rising in fifth grade and found it such a welcome and imaginative escape from the real world that he has been hooked on the genre ever since. He is married with three kids and has enjoyed sharing this love with them through bedtime stories and weekend movie nights.

Here is Dr. Mayberry’s review of THE EXPANSE:

The Expanse made the news last year after its cancellation on the SyFy channel led to massive protests and rallies from fans who wanted more. Their pleas were so convincing that Amazon picked up the show, released it on Prime, and started work on Season 4. Comparisons between the Expanse and Firefly, one of my personal all-time favorite space operas, coupled with its newfound accessibility to us non-cable folks encouraged me to give it a shot. I was not disappointed. In fact, after watching all three currently available seasons in just a few weeks (no small feat for a parent of three little ones), I believe that The Expanse has surpassed Firefly and even (dare I say it?) Battlestar Galactica in the pantheon of epic SyFy channel originals.

The Expanse takes place three hundred years from now in a future where humankind has populated the far reaches of our solar system, thanks to a series of technological breakthroughs in “high-g” space travel. The United Nations controls Earth and “Luna” while Mars is under the governance of an independent military coalition. The outer reaches of the system (referred to as “the Belt”) consists of a series of asteroids and space stations operating on artificial spin gravity. The Earth and Mars depend on the Belt for resources while “Belters” are treated as second-class citizens by the “inners”. Season 1 centers around three distinct storylines that respectively follow a cop in one of the largest belt stations, the crew of a deep space ice freighter, and a high-ranking Earth diplomat as they independently discover evidence of an unfathomable plot to destroy the solar system’s fragile peace. It turns out to run so much deeper than any of them could have possibly imagined.

The show accelerates you into a “high-g burn” from the start of episode one and never really lays off the juice thereafter. BSG, for all its glorious moments, suffered from some pretty lame episodes and character inconsistencies (like Lee’s sudden “you never let me fulfill my dream of being a lawyer, dad” moment), but no episode of The Expanse is wasted on such side plots and trivialities. Everything builds towards major epiphanies that aren’t dragged out indefinitely (like in Lost), but instead brought to fruition within the scope of seasons or even half seasons and then turn into bigger questions and realizations which keep you coming back for more. In fact, at the end of Season 3, my wife and I felt like the whole first three seasons, for all they accomplished, played like a prologue leading up to an even greater space adventure in the seasons to follow.

Underlying the compelling storyline is a charismatic and well-cast group of actors whose chemistry on screen is reminiscent of the Firefly cast at times. The Tarantino-esque convergent storylines woven throughout the show merge in extremely satisfying fashion throughout the series. New characters are introduced with purpose and have important roles to play in driving the overarching plot towards its objectives. Even for sci-fi skeptics (like my wife), the characters and political backdrop of the Earth-Mars-Belter coalition will draw you in and force you to imagine what the future could be like…and whether it is the future we want to build towards or not.