Seen in Jeonju

Doomsday Book (2012)

26th May 2012

poWhen news of this omnibus started circulating, many film websites and critics expressed an interest in it, and why not?  The two directors, Kim Ji-woon (I Saw the Devil, Bittersweet Life, A Tale of Two Sisters, etc.) and Im Pil-seong (Hansel and Gretel, Antarctic Journal, and more) had more than proven themselves over the years for some memorable and innovative film-making.  And the cast comprising the three short films that make up Doomsday Book is promising with such familiar names as Ryu Seung-beom, Bae Doo-na, Park Hae-il, Kim Kang-woo, Kim Gyu-ri and other well-respected actors.  Despite the buzz surrounding the film, I remained skeptical for several reasons.  The first had to do with the topic of the first story..zombies.  If you have been reading this site since the beginning, you know that I have always be hopeful for a good Korean-made zombie film, a sub-genre of horror that has been absent from Korean cinema with but a few exceptions starting in the 1980s.  More recently we had the films Neighbor Zombie, Dark Forest and Mr. Zombie, but each time I go my hopes up, I have been disappointed. Being skeptical on that ground was just a case of ‘once bitten, twice shy.”  Another reason I was not excited was because I had read some rumors about investors pulling out and long delays in shooting, never a good sign.  Finally, when still images and teasers started to appear, I was uncertain of the visuals. I did not care for the robots looking so much like they did in the American film I, Robot and I had my reservations about the giant 8-ball that was appearing in the trailers. 

On the whole, I feel justified in having my reservations.  I do not think that Doomsday Book lived up to expectations people had and even I, who was not expecting too much, wound up disappointed on several levels. 

The first story in the three-part omnibus is Cool New World, features the end of the world via zombie apocalypse.  Ryu Seung-beom has some excellent acting moments, especially post-transformation. The night club scene is well handled and I think they may be the first time I have ever seen a zombie movie present a clear cause for the zombie virus. That, and the point hinted that the zombies, although fueled by hunger as in every other zombie movie seem to still be capable of other emotions separate it a little from a myriad of other, similar films.. but is it enough?  I would have liked to have seen both of those areas expanded upon. As it stands, the short film seems too brief and the characters themselves become secondary as the plot erupts all over the place and tries to cover too much ground. Some characters who are introduced as being exposed to the same zombi-making agent disappear. Stories about what happened to each of them, might have been more satisfying than the newscasts the director opted to show. I would say that this film is worth watching for Ryu-as-a-zombie, but the story itself feels rushed and/or edited too heavily for time constraints.

The second of the three was my least favorite. Heavenly Creature was very wordy as the idea of the end of the world via robots is broached. It is filled with philosophical ideas and light on action.. so it may appeal to some.  However the ideas discussed at length were nothing new if you have ever read anything by Isaac Asimov.  This section of the movie could not hold my interest, although some of the visuals were beautifully shot and framed. It was for this reason I selected the poster featuring Heavenly Creature on it to head this post, rather than the posters showing the other movies.

The final film, and honestly the one I thought I would dislike the most, was actually my favorite. It is the only one of the three directed by Im Pil-seong and he set a tone that was clearly tongue-in-cheek.  It is another end of the world scenario, this time by collision with an object from space, but it never for a minute takes itself seriously. This is the one with the giant 8-ball which confused and worried me in the teaser trailers. However, within the minimal logic of the film, it makes perfect sense. Director Im also makes use of the newscasts to tell a story, but unlike in Kim’s zombie story, the news in Happy Birthday is fun to watch and the final broadcast before the end of the world alone is worth watching.  It may have been a little childish at times, but Happy Birthday offered something unique and I appreciated that. 

I wish that the rest of Doomsday Book had been so innovative. It is still worth watching, but it does not live up to its potential.

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