Everybody wants to get ahead in this world. So many of us find ourselves in situations that could be vastly improved by “one big break”. As a result, our collective morals are easily compromised, and a lot of us are willing to do things in the name of a big payday that we’d never otherwise consider doing. The trouble is, doing these things requires a certain resolve that we don’t all have.

HAEMOO is a new Korean film about a fishing vessel ad its meagre crew. The captain, Kang (Kim Yoon-seok), can no longer deny the economic realities of running the ship. The catches he is coming back with are barely enough to cover his expenses, and the boat itself is being held together with match sticks and chewing gum. Long ago it should have been sold off for whatever money he could get, but Kang is a proud man and wants to be “the captain of his fate” so to speak. One day, he goes to an associate who has a lead on a bigger payday. The job would involve drifting out into international wonders and rallying up with a Chinese freighter. Once there, Kang’s fishing boat would take on about two dozen illegal immigrants and smuggle them back into Korea.

Unable to resist the huge payday involved, Kang takes the job. As it turns out, smuggling people isn’t half as easy as catching fish.

What one makes of this film will depend on how they take to what happens next. Without getting into too much detail, the smuggling mission doesn’t go well. After an incredible scene where the immigrants are taken on-board in the midst of a squall, we are left to sit and watch as the crew tries to adapt to their responsibilities for a new sort of “catch”. Suffice it to say, things don’t go well. Some will find this descent of character to be a bit silly; some will find it tragic.

For me, watching the fall-out of this fishing voyage gave me a knot in my stomach that stayed for the entirety of the film’s final hour. From the moment the last immigrant is pulled aboard the fishing vessel, things seem to already be teetering on the edge. It’s clear that the crew has very little idea what they are doing, and that some of the immigrants can see this. What’s more, we are given a connection between one of the crew members named Dong-sik (Park Yu-chun) and one of the immigrants named Hong-Mae (Han Ye-ri) that seems both sweet and doomed. Watching everything that happens once that storm quells is made twice as difficult when we’re left to wonder how these actions will affect this unlikely couple.

This film has some stunning visuals, and some terrible turns of the screw. It’s well worth the watch, even if you find yourself a little seasick by the end.