Comparisons between “The Silent Sea” – Netflix’s latest Korean-language drama – and this fall’s “Squid Game” streaming phenomenon extend far beyond their common language. On “The Silent Sea”, a group of desperate individuals enter a perilous situation as a final attempt at salvation; their quest begins with the painful recognition of the economic inequality of their world.
The comparison between the two K-dramas, however, becomes somewhat reductive beyond an initial gloss on the themes, as the shows differ in their genre. While “Squid Game” was a violent thriller, “The Silent Sea” is a sci-fi epic, depicting an attempt to harvest water from the moon to quench thirst for a desert Earth. But as the overwhelming success of “Squid Game” has indicated, more strongly than ever, there is a global audience for entertainment with aggressively emphasized themes that transcend language.
In “The Silent Sea,” directed by Choi Hang Yong and based on his short film of the same name, Netflix has a show that should please and disappoint to the same extent. In short, the first episode establishes economically the state of things: the Earth is dying. (We later learn that the water is distributed according to the social status of the beneficiaries.) And South Korea’s “National Committee for Human Survival Measures” is launching a new mission at a lunar station where an enigmatic event causing Numerous victims derailed research into the potential of water on the moon. This franchise has its raw pleasures, though the data-dump nature of storytelling precludes smarter possibilities.
Fortunately, performers often transcend the rawest parts of the material. Bae Doona, an artist whose versatility viewers may recall from 2012’s “Cloud Atlas”, plays a biologist who feels compelled to join the mission for both global and personal reasons. Upon arriving at the moon base, she is the first to rip off her helmet, proving that oxygen levels are safe. The courage of the actor sells the moment, and his contact with the softer material of the series is assured.
The visual sweep of “The Silent Sea” is impressive – its lunar canyons are surprisingly well rendered – but the show’s eight episodes can get turgid and slow, as if the show is dazzled by its own beauty. We are rushed through the establishment of this world, only to drag over time. And the series’ narrowing openness, over eight long episodes, to a personal relationship (which I won’t spoil) seems somewhat limiting.
The film “Gravity”, which similarly treated space travel as a metaphor for a journey through one’s emotional life, is presented as a parable, with little specific information about the world beyond the heartache of it. astronaut Ryan Stone. His mission and his emotions are one. In “The Silent Sea,” however, the fate of the world at stake works against the grain of the emotional story being told. Things are so terrible on Earth that in her quest to save her, the pace of Bae’s character can feel heavy – despite giving her everything as a performer. The two threads of the story can distract each other.
That said, the heights of “The Silent Sea” are indeed high, and the show erases the low bar of having a good deal in mind. Perhaps a five- or six-episode version would have sidestepped some of the long periods in which attention is meant to wander; Overall, however, audiences who appreciate genre dishes with heart are likely to be happy they made the trip.
“The Silent Sea” premieres on Netflix on Friday, December 22.