K-drama review: 'The Silent Sea' fails to sustain compelling first half

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jan 04 2022 04:20 PM

Gong Yoo in 'The Silent Sea.' Handout
Gong Yoo in 'The Silent Sea.' Handout

The Space and Aeronautics Division of Korea sent a mission to revisit the ill-fated Balhae Lunar Research Station on the moon, five years after all its crew perished in a major radiation accident. Under the leadership of Capt. Han Yun-jae (Gong Yoo), the team was composed of engineers, a physician and Dr. Song Ji-an (Bae Doona, an astrobiologist. Their mission was to retrieve a container of a secret research sample whose exact nature was left confidential.

En route to the moon, there was already a critical malfunction that caused their craft to make an emergency crash landing on the moon. Then with all communications down, they had to hike several kilometers towards Balhae with their oxygen supply rapidly depleting. There were casualties in the crew from Day 1 on, either due to a mysterious creature prowling in the station, or a mysterious disease that makes the victim vomit volumes of pure water. 

The first four episodes set up the urgent situation of a worldwide water crisis, a problem for which this lunar mission was going to address. In the approach taken by director Choi Hang-yong, the viewers are kept in the dark as to the true nature of the Balhae tragedy and what this mystery sample that the crew was supposed to recover. In so doing, viewers will feel the distress, frustration, and fear of the unknown as the crew members felt them. 

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This first half of the series was most compelling in terms of its interesting premise. The most impressive aspect was really their production design of the spacecrafts, space station and the spacesuits. This is definitely the most sophisticated, most realistically detailed sci-fi I've seen in a South Korean production. Some laws of physics and biology may have been glossed over in the execution for suspense purposes, but the look and atmosphere was topnotch.

By the second half of the series, they had already come face to face with the intruder. The crew needed to know how to get to know more about this intruder and figure out how to manage its threat or value to them. By this time, as the suspense thriller aspect petered down, drama took over as Dr. Song reminisced about her sister who died in the Balhae disaster. An internal conflict between the crewmates added action to the final episode.

Gong Yoo was authoritative as their alpha-male leader Capt. Han. He seemed cold at first, but it was not too much of a stretch that he would show his heart sooner or later. Bae Doona had a more restrained role as Dr. Song, but as she was in "Kingdom," she could figure things out credibly. It took time to get used to Kim sun-young as a medical doctor, after seeing her as a gossipy auntie in "Crash Landing on You" and "When the Camellias Bloom." 

I could not help but think that the eight episodes could have been trimmed down to four, or even just a single movie. There were very many crew members to begin with, so they had to die one by one, until we get left with a few survivors at the end. This caused some repetition of scenarios which could be edited down further if they wanted to. The ending remained to be unsatisfactory because it left very pertinent issues hanging in the air. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, “Fred Said.”