In the vibrant landscape of Ryoo Seung-wan’s “Smugglers,” we’re introduced to a tempting array of ideas. At its core, the film is an ambitious blend of comedy, action, and drama which, while engaging, sometimes balances on the edge of losing its identity amid its attempt to encompass all genres.
The cinematography offers an evident playfulness. The vivid use of bright colour and retro-styling reminiscent of the ‘70s give the film its distinct character: a flashy ode to a past era. However, the narrative often leans heavily on visual devices like recontextualizing flashbacks – scenes that initially suggest one outcome and are revisited shortly after with added context that alters our understanding. Reminiscent of the TV series “Money Heist,” the technique is executed less elegantly in “Smugglers,” as if the movie is trying too hard to ensure the viewers comprehend each twist. This oversharing disrupts the balance between engaging the audience and trusting they can follow the plot.
The film’s message of women empowerment is an admirable thread followed throughout. However, its power is weakened by the lack of depth in character development. The audience gets only a superficial insight into these strong women’s lives, especially the secondary characters among the haenyeo. Even our main leads, Chun-ja and Jin-sook, are limited in the context of their motivations and backstories, leaving viewers craving a deeper connection, feeling underwhelmed as the story unfolds.
While “Smugglers” is a visually engaging joyride with commendable intentions, its attempt to juggle multiple genres, tools, and ideas may make it feel unfocused. While it promises and largely delivers an entertaining dive, its narrative’s impactful depth remains on the surface.