Film Review: The Himalayas

For hardy souls who like hardy film fare, this Korean mountain-climbing epic should be worth the trek.
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The focus of Lee Suk-hoon’s film about Korea’s most famous mountain-scaler, Um Hong-gil (Hwang Jung-min), is solidly on human relationships, rather than the technicalities of climbing dizzying snow-covered peaks. The Himalayas follows the strong friendship between Um and younger climber Park Moo-taek (Jung Woo), which begins during their ascent of the third-highest mountain in the world, Kangchenjunga in Nepal. However, after Um hurts his leg, he retires to Korea to pursue less strenuous activities, like authoring a book. When he learns that Park has vanished during a trek up Everest, he goes into immediate retrieval mode.

The humanity which constantly informs this film keeps it absorbing, as you marvel at the sweeping, snow-topped mountain vistas and fortitude of the climbers, not to mention the highly challenged-by-the-elements filmmakers who bring their journeys so vividly to life. Cinematography and editing are both top-notch, with the smooth professionalism that is now a given in almost any Korean film. The music score, while laid on a bit thickly, is nevertheless often beautiful and moving.

Hwang, a major star after the blockbusters Ode to My Father and Veteran, the two highest-grossing Korean films of all time, invests his hardy sage of a character with a compellingly handsome dignity and natural authority, while Jung provides much comic relief with his now-familiar, sometimes bumbling yet irresistibly ingratiating persona. The movie culminates in a tragic discovery on Everest, and both actors literally rise to the occasion, making it one of the most powerful dramatic sequences of the year.

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