Netflix continues to churn out solid and unique Korean drama offerings. And the latest is The Silent Sea (고요의 바다), a sci-fi mystery thriller starring Bae Doona and Gong Yoo. The premise of the eight-episode series is intriguing: an elite team is sent to retrieve a mysterious sample from the moon in the hopes of finding a solution to the severe drought and desertification of the world. Though the series itself isn’t totally out of this world (so to speak), it is nonetheless a refreshing and ultimately enjoyable experience that offers something different from the norm. Even if the series leaves a lot of potential on the table.
The Silent Sea is set in a future where worldwide drought and famine is so severe, governments such as Korea have instituted water rationing based on a class and rank system. In the hopes of finding a solution to the crisis, the government sends a team led by team leader Han Yoon Jae (Gong Yoo) and including astrobiologist Song Ji An (Bae Doona), a doctor, pilots and engineers to an abandoned research station on the moon to retrieve a sample. A sample of what, the team is not told. Nor are the details of a supposed nuclear accident at the research station years ago which killed scores of people and forced the abandoning of the lunar outpost.
The team literally flies into the unknown as they must overcome unexpected hurdles and navigate through the dark, mysterious complex in search for what could be humanity’s last hope. But what they find, the questions that emerge and the unknown dangers they encounter are beyond anything they could have ever imagined.
The biggest piece of advice to anyone thinking about watching The Silent Sea is to go in knowing as little as possible about the series. The basic premise is laid out above. However, the way the series itself is laid out, its strongest asset is its mystery and suspense.
You are never quite sure what is ahead or what direction the series is moving toward. And that is almost the main attraction here.
Much has been made about this being the first Korean sci-fi series. And while production is on par with, say, your typical American Syfy network series, don’t come into the series expecting an allegorical space opera.
The sci-fi and space aspect is certainly a unique theme for a Korean drama. But another piece of advice is to temper your expectations with regards to that as well. (To say more would spoil too much.)
The lunar station setting provides an opportunity for a refreshing change of pace from your typical K-drama. And that in turn sets the stage for some exciting and legitimately thrilling action. The great set design and careful direction help set the tone very well, providing the perfect stage for the talented cast to do their thing.
And the cast definitely have their work cut out for them. When it comes to a story in which a lot of things are unknown, the burden lays on the characters and the actors that bring them to live. And the ensemble cast is able to carry that weight. Even if the characters deserved more and just as much exploration as the lunar station they find themselves in. (Bae Doona gets the most opportunity to do so. And the material she is given makes you wish the other characters had received the same opportunity.)
The Silent Sea requires a solid commitment for all eight episodes (a bit over six hours of total runtime excluding opening and closing credits). The first two hours of the series may feel a bit lethargic on the surface. Much like a gravitational pull trying to tether the series down. But that slowburn of an introduction quickly leads into the foreboding mystery and suspense. That, as mentioned earlier, is best experienced by knowing as little as possible about the series. The series is almost like a guessing game with a bit of ragtag hijinks on the side.
The Silent Sea merely scratches the surface on deeper discussions about class and society, especially in the face of an apocalyptic catastrophe as well as in the claustrophobic confines of the research station. And in that sense, the series is more like a post-apocalyptic vignette. Just one piece of a grander narrative about the world’s response to a cataclysmic natural event. The basics of that are laid out quite simply. And that allows the focus to center around the team and their mysterious and dangerous mission.
The danger part of the story is what delivers the effective suspense and thrills that pierce through the quiet calm of its lunar setting.
The series is adapted from a short film by Choi Hang Yong, who also directs the series. And there is certainly a case for the story to be better suited for a full-length feature film rather than an eight episode series.
The Silent Sea feels like it is somewhere between being a two-hour film and a full-fledged episodic series. And that is part of what might make the series feel held back in some way. If presented as a feature film, the story could be much tighter.
But for the story to be a much more creatively successful drama series, a bigger focus on the characters and their backstories would’ve done the trick. Especially when the series obviously wants to be a character-driven story, but didn’t follow through. Thus bringing us back to the feeling of the series being held back somehow.
The Silent Sea is an ambitious series that might not land smoothly, but is still able to reach its destination in a reasonably satisfying way. Again, it’s best to go into the series as cold as you can be and be willing to hop along for the ride. Though there’s many missed opportunities and a solid foundation to spring forth from for potential future explorations, The Silent Sea is ultimately an enjoyable watch.