PHANTOM: THE SUBMARINE (1999) review

Submarine films don’t come often: the last significant one was David Twohy’s superb Below in 2003 (and, the same year, Kathryn Bigelow’s underrated K-19: The Widowmaker). Asian submarine films are even more scarce. In fact, I can’t think of one on the top of my head. Phantom: The Submarine thus has some measure of novelty to it. Directed by Min Byung-Chun and written by the great Bong Joon-Ho (of The Host and Memories of Murder fame, among others), it stars Jun Woo-Sung and Choi Min-Soo. The plot is kind of a cross between The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide: a nuclear submarine commander (Choi Min-Soo) decides to go rogue and threatens to bomb a nearby country (here Japan), like Sean Connery in Red October. But not everyone agrees with him aboard the ship, which leads to a face-off between the commander and one of the officers (Jun Woo-Sung), like Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington in Crimson Tide. But Phantom: The Submarine has a tone all of its own, sometimes verging on the supernatural. The submarine in the film is called Phantom for one good reason: it’s not supposed to exist, and everybody in its crew is supposed to be dead. For instance Jun Woo-Sung’s character was supposed to be executed, but instead got assigned to the submarine as a weapons officer, under the number (names and personal items are forbidden) 431. So it’s basically the contemporary, realistic equivalent of a ghost ship.

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