24th Udine Far East Film Festival: “Tomb of the River” Review

The fact that in recent years it has been difficult to find a true representation of the noir genre shows that there are still opportunities out there for filmmakers to bring it back to life. In 2021, however, Yoon Young-bin, an emerging South Korean filmmaker, grabbed that chance by domestically releasing Tomb of the River, which later received its international premiere at the 24th Udine Far East Film Festival in 2022. 

Image © Studio Santa Claus & Nintendo Entertainment

Gangneung, a city on the east coast of South Korea, awaits the opening of one of the biggest resorts and casinos in the area. The project is run by Chairman Oh and his right hand, Gil-seok (Yoo Oh-sung: The Great Battle, Friend), who are a part of a local yet powerful gang. Gil-seok is a strict but an honourable gangster, which also earned him the respect of his peers. Things drastically change when Min-seok (Jang Hyuk: The Killer, The Swordsman), with an overwhelming desire to take over Chairman’s Oh business, comes to the city. And while tension grows, a great betrayal occurs. Meanwhile, Bang-hyun (Park Seong-geun: The Man Standing Next), a detective – who also turns out to be Gil-seok’s long-time friend – tries to deescalate the situation, simply to save the gangster’s life. Will justice prevail or will it fail? 

Image © Studio Santa Claus & Nintendo Entertainment

Tomb of the River abundantly draws the best traditions (although not in black and white) of noir cinema. The story unfolds slowly to the rhythm of the layered dialogue. While the dialogue is a tricky piece of storytelling to master, it can be just as, if not more, effective as the visuals that it compliments – and that expressive visual layer is at the fore of this film. It’s also a motion picture with a disturbing atmosphere, which intensifies with every minute and from which it is difficult to break away long after the screening ends. 

The sharp contrast between the two main characters, Gil-seok and Bang-hyun, leaves a strong imprint on the viewer. With Yoo Oh-sung, Park Seong-geun and Jang Hyuk’s immaculate performances, Tomb of the River creates a disquieting and unpleasant climate of the threat that lurks just around the corner. 

Image © Studio Santa Claus & Nintendo Entertainment

With its strong narrative, a fascinating play of light and shadow, and an omnipresent coolness and darkness that is emphasised by minimalistic lighting in the climax scene, Tomb of the River brought the noir genre back onto the big screen. And with this directorial debut, Yoon Young-bin has become one of the most promising South Korean filmmakers. 


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Maggie Gogler

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