Friday, December 28, 2012

Interpreting What the Doomsday Book Means: A Movie Review

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Directors: Pil-Sung Yim, Jee-woon Kim.

Writers: Jee-woon Kim, Pil-Sung Yim.

Cast: Doona Bae, Joon-ho Bong and Ji-hee Jin.

For some people, December is Doomsday month. The obsession may have some film buffs exploring creative ways cinema has for how the Earth can stand still, or simply go boom. A well-made anthology titled Doomsday Book (인류멸망보고서) fits the bill. Quite literally, the movie's original title means, "Report on the Destruction of Mankind."

Instead of the Earth rebelling against civilization, the onus is on what humanity can do unto itself. That can make for some great storytelling. Each tale is unique in relating how one solitary act can doom an entire world, or nation in the first short, "Brave New World (멋진 신세계)." This amusing tale looks at how a nerdy research scientist, Yoon Seok-woo (Ryo Seung-beom) unwittingly unleashes the zombie apocalypse by discarding a rotten apple. He is set up by a friend to date Kim Yoo-min (Go Joon-hee). The two seem to hit it off quite well, but when he becomes a member of the walking dead, this horror cum romance tale has a heart. Even when dead, love can still ironically persist.

The next tale, "Heavenly Creature" (천상의 피조물), is the best of the three because of its strong message and superbly written script; most of the nuances of the language were translated over very well in the subtitles. This tale is writer/director Kim Ji-woon's interpretation of Asimov's classic collection, "I Robot." And future adapters of this particular story can do well to make notes. Movies dealing with visceral horror belong to its own niche and set of fans. But tales dealing with existentialism and fear of advancing technology are very few and far between—there really needs to be more!

This movie's narrative is simple. A robotics firm, UR, thinks they have a glitchy robot that believes it has achieved enlightenment. In the past several years, it has lived in a Buddhist monastery and lived exactly like the monks. But on the day it declared that he has achieved Nirvana (the Buddhist equivalent of Heaven), the chairman of UR, Kang Seong-cheol (Song Young-chang) thinks otherwise. He believes the robot has developed a technical fault, and he sends Park Do-won (Kim Kang-woo) to find out what is wrong.

Instead, what both of them find challenges even them to understand their own interpretation of the meaning of life, if not human evolution. To choose between oblivion or sacrifice is not an easy decision to make. To see how this short ends is nothing more than amazing.

The last tale, "Happy Birthday" (해피 버스데이) looks at human nature at its most diverse than in teaching viewers how to survive the apocalypse. When a young Park Min-seo (Jin Ji-hee) feels like she is not getting enough attention from her family, especially her pool obsessed father and uncle, she tosses an eight ball out the window and it disappears into a magical sinkhole.

Little does she know that she has set future events in motion. It's like a butterfly happily flapping its wings in one side of the world and on the opposite, an earthquake happens. When Min-seo realizes what she did was wrong, she secretly orders a new pool ball from a mysterious website to replace the lost item. But all the cogs of the universe are telling her that the damage is done. She needs to understand all actions have consequences.

The ball she ordered is being sent by intergalactic mail and everyone in the world is reacting by thinking the "asteroid" is going to smash the planet in half. Her family squabbles all the way as they enter their makeshift shelter. But will time mend all wounds, including family dysfunction?

The production values of this collection are consistently high. With a title like Doomsday Book to draw the curious in, the matching poster cover is just as equally attractive. Viewers looking for a perfect mix of sci-fi and horror will find it in this collection. Despite a heavy-handed mix of national pride/commentary about the sentimentalities between the North and South Korea, they seem to add more to the drama of why the doomsday scenario is cruel in a country with the still viable threat of nuclear destruction. Each story could potentially be read as an allegory about the present situation.

It is like the Israeli–Palestinian conflict; the dispute will never end. Neither will the feelings one side of the country have for the other. Now that is the true terror this product is making about the socio-political climate that Koreans live in. That country may potentially never unite under one political system. If this movie is supposed to be a cry for the fears one side has, especially with how the characters in “Brave New World” likes to point fingers, then where the story goes with “Happy Birthday” suggests that maybe one day, one cataclysm, will unite the factions.

Now that's a movie to enjoy. The hidden messages this film makes are more than satisfying. It shows that there is hope for humanity after all.

Overall: 8.5 out of 10.

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