Director: Shim Sung-Bo
Cast: Han Ye-Ri, Kim Yun-Seok, Park Yu-Chun, Moon Sung-Geun, Kim Sang-Ho
Language: Korean
Subtitles: English, Chinese

Based on true events, Haemoo tells a gripping story of a voyage of survival and humanity. 

Set in South Korea in 1998, a fishing vessel sets sail for their catch. The crew isn't in luck, for their catch isn't what they have hoped for. Captain Kang (starring Kim Yun-Seok) is desperate, for the times are bad and if they fail to bring in anything it'd mean the whole crew would be in trouble. 

With nowhere to go, he agrees to transport some Chinese-Koreans stowaways from China on his vessel. When the crew knew that they would be smuggling immigrants, they are worried but they have no choice. Moreover they trust and respect Captain Kang; they knew that whatever he does he always have their best interest. 

Unfortunately, the deal is a doom from the start. Apart from the large group of immigrants that leave them stunned, they are not prepared of consequences should any happens. Captain Kang has to resort to violence, and his action shakes the cores of his crew members. And that's only the beginning of the nightmares... 

Haemoo is a sad, dark and thought-provoking movie that evolves around the subject of humanity, and what drives a man to do under desperate measures. Greed is another factor, as well as lust. There is a little romance to this movie, but it is all sad and a tragedy. Dong-Sik (starring Park Yu-Chun) is the youngest crew in the vessel who falls in love with Hong-Mae (starring Han Ye-Ri), a young woman immigrant who wanted to look for her brother in Korea. Their scene also plays a major part to this film when Dong-Sik tries to protect Hong-Mae from his crazed captain and fellow mates. 

The cast did a wonderful job in their respective role. Two characters really left an impression on me and they are Captain Kang and of course, Dong-Sik. Captain Kang is a man who cares a lot for his crew (You could tell this when he still gives advance money to them even if he has to loan it.) He is simply a simple fisherman who wants to bring home money despite the bad times. He is simply down with miscalculations and bad luck. 

Dong-Sik is another simple-minded soul with a big heart. His falling for Hong-Mae has given him the courage to act devilishly. From the point of love I have to applaud him for the things he has done for Hong-Mae, but from another view it's so sad to see the crew crumbles and became the enemies instead. 

Overall I felt the direction was great, until it came to the ending part. It was a let down and I felt terribly disappointed. Walking out of the theatre I could hear some discussions and sighs from a few audiences. Truth be told, I didn't really get the ending. That said, I suppose it gives viewers a melancholy feel over what all happened to that unfortunate event. 

Note: Haemoo is listed as South Korean's submission for the Foreign Language Film for the 87th Academy Awards in 2015.

  • ISBN-13: 9780062088260
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date: 23 September 2014 (Reprint)
  • Format: Paperback, 256 pgs
  • Source: Publisher

Don't you think there's a overwhelming sense of melancholy and sadness just by reading the title itself? I definitely think so, and what made this book not an easy read is it revolves around two girls - twelve-year-old Easter and her six-year-old younger sister, Ruby, and how they are on the run with their father.

After their mother's passing, they have been staying at their foster home. Their ex-minor league baseball player father, Wade Chesterfield, left them a few years back and they'd been living with their mother since the day their parents signed a paper on the Termination of Parental Rights. The legal document has stated that Wade would thereby relinquish his parental rights to Easter and Ruby. And from then on the girls never saw their father, again. It was then known that their father was arrested for DUI. And now he's appeared at their foster home and took them away in the middle of the night.

On the other end, Robert Pruitt, is a mercurial man nursing a years-old vendetta. He is, however, determined to find Wade and claim his due. He and Wade had known each other way back when they were both baseball players. Pruitt is also driven by money to track Wade from a triad boss who believes Wade had stolen a huge amount of money from him.

Brady Weller is the girls' guardian and he has a little history himself; he'd been a police officer and then a detective for almost twenty years. He has found his way being a guardian by trying to undo something that can never be undone. His current job is installing security systems but when he knew of the girls' disappearance, he began a search with the help of his ex-buddy whom he had worked with  together during his days in the police force.

Narrated in alternating voices between Easter, Pruitt and Brady, This Dark Road to Mercy is an emotional read about the two sisters' struggles of living a new life and how fate has put their life in disarray.

What made this a compelling read is what seems to be an impulsive act from the start could spiral out of control into something so unbelievable and horrific. The three narrators are all binded into a complicated race of an unfortunate event which started out by greed initially. Wade is another interesting character whom I felt was a pity that his voice isn't included in this story. However, he plays a crucial role to this story so I suppose by leaving out his voice would probably add to the overall mysterious effect.

I enjoyed reading this story a lot. There are both tender and tense moments; and while I felt sympathy towards Easter and Ruby, there were also times that one has to admire their strength and courage at their age, especially Easter since she feels responsible for Ruby.

What also makes this story memorable is each role may differ from one another but they all have one thing in common, and that is having a second chance.


ISBN-13: 9781596439382
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: 16 September 2014
Format: Hardcover, 432 pgs
Source: Personal Library

The Forge School is an elite arts academy. What makes this school so special is they have The Forge Show; a reality show that tracked and broadcast the activity of each individual student at the school. For twelve hours each day, students are being monitored. The only places they have their privacy is the bathroom. Even their sleep is being monitored. For this show, each student is rated accordingly through the blip rank and viewers are able to select their favourite students' feeds. As if this is not enough, students who couldn't make it to the top fifty would be expelled. 

The Forge Show is inspired by a film teacher who teaches there twenty three years ago. They found out that the students who were being filmed began to work much harder. In other words, the camera eye itself has somewhat influenced their performance. 

Our heroine, Rosie Sinclair, her dream is to become a filmmaker. Coming from a poor family with a lazy and good-for-nothing stepdad, she managed to get into Forge with her little footage of her younger sister, Dubbs. Although they didn't share the same dad, Rosie loves her all the same. 

From the earlier chapters, we get this feeling that the Forge School is no ordinary elite school that nurture their students to excellence. Although they have twelve hours of sleep to ensure they perform to their best; that result comes from a pill and it is mandatory for all students to take every evening before bed. There's definitely something fishy going on here, and Rosie feels the same too. So one night, she pretended to have swallowed the pill under the attendant's watchful eyes before she climbs into her sleeping cell. And that night, she discovered something which she isn't meant to see (know). 

From there, we follow Rosie's adventures of exploring the secrets of the school. She has befriended a few friends along the way; and seems to have found her first love in Linus, a boy who works in the school's kitchen. But, there are doubts hovering in both Rosie's and the readers' minds about who not to trust, and it is no surprise that some staff do harbour some dark secrets that involve the students. 

The Vault of Dreamers is a dystopian and sci-fi thriller and honestly speaking, I'm not a huge sci-fi fan but the story captivated me from the beginning. I think it has a great premise and I thought the overall setting is pretty refreshing unlike the others. Characterisations wise, Rosie is an interesting character and she seems to be a girl with fierce determination and the fearless type, but there are times I just couldn't get past her reasons over some events and they either puzzled or frustrated me (not a criticism but simply my personal view.) 

As mentioned earlier, though I felt the premise was great, I thought it'd be better if the idea of some scientific events are further explored and elaborated. Also, I felt the last part towards the end was a bit rushed. The last scene might infuriate some, but knowing this is a series I suppose we'd get some answers in the next book. However, strange as it may sound, I felt that that scene could work as a standalone too. 

ISBN-13: 9780062326591
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: 14 October 2014

Format: Paperback, 336 pgs
Source: ARC from the Publisher

Fifteen-year-old Samantha and her younger sister, Ollie, stay with their father, Frank "Bear" McAlister, in a meadow by the Crooked River in rural Oregon after the death of their mother. Bear is a beekeeper and believes that bees recognise those who cherish them and they won't sting if one comes to their hives humble and gracious. 

The girls' grandmother wanted to fight for their custody, but she's willing to give Bear a chance after her husband's probing; plus their mother trusted him. Ollie has not talked since their mother's death; they all thought she would once the shock is over but Ollie remains silent. She's able to see ghosts too (she calls them The Shimmering). 

While wandering through the woods one day, they found a young woman floating in Crooked River; she was dead. They later found a bloodstained jacket in Bear's satchel after returning to their teepee, and this made Sam wonder about his whereabouts the previous night he was gone. Sam wanted to ask Bear but didn't have the chance; but when that chance came she decided she won't say anything. She's afraid that the others will see only what they want to see, not what is actually there. But most of all, she wants to believe in him although other people sees him as eccentric. 

Although there are evidence that points to Bear, Sam and Ollie still think that the police has caught the wrong person. Not wanting to see their family come crumbling down, Sam, together with Ollie, decided to take matters into their own hands and search for clues. While Sam goes about digging information, Ollie, on the other end, has The Shimmering to guide her to the right direction, if only Sam wants to accept and see through it. 

Crooked River is one fine literary mystery with a supernatural element to it. Emotional and character - driven, this is a story about family, friendship, secrets and of course, ghosts which are around us even if we can't see them. 

I've to admit I was a little skeptical over the supernatural element initially, but after reading halfway through I began to see why this is "injected" into the story. It may not be the mystery itself, but it allows the readers to understand how they'd make an impact on the sisters. 

What interest me is not only the mystery but the interactions between the sisters. I liked Ollie especially not  because she's smart but she's extremely brave too. What they have gone through is tough, but they have also made them stronger and more matured. Told in Sam and Ollie's perspectives through alternating chapter, I find this style to be appropriate and effective as their emotions and thoughts are well described through their distinctive voice. I really enjoyed this story; however I felt the closure isn't satisfying. The mystery, no doubt, is revealed but what becomes of some characters are unknown. I would, however, let it go with my hunch.