Often have I said that to understand and appreciate Asian cinema, one must be ready to ask for the motivation of a story or a scene. It operates differently than Hollywood movies when its narrative is especially kept in an allegoric manner. Well, the director of “Hanseland Gretel”, Im Pil-Seung and the director of two awesome-st films “A Tale of Two Sisters” and “I Saw The Devil”, Kim Ji-Woon have joined together in directing a trilogy of stories under the film “The Doomsday Book”. This film presents three unique stories of the potential for humanity’s self-destruction in this modern high-tech era. It sees the modern age as insusceptible and as a result, it seeks to present an alternative form of genuine humanity.
The first tale “Brave New World” follows a young man named Yoon Seok (Ryu Seung-Beom, Arahan) who is left behind in Korea while his family goes abroad. He cleans up and comes across a rotten apple which then finds it way to the food waste disposal system. Soon, Yoon-Seok and his date, Yoo-Min (Go Joon-Hee) discover that the world is under siege by an undead pandemic brought about by rotten trash?
Kim Ji-Woon brings in to the fold (also the director of Hollywood’s The Last Stand) “Heavenly Creature”. A tale that follows a young technician named Park Do-Won (Kim Kang-Woo) employed by the RU robotics company to check out a robot (Park Hae-Il) who had been employed in a Buddhist monastery. This robot called RU4 has become a Buddhist and many have claimed that it had reached enlightenment. Park gives the robot a clean bill of health, but his superiors (Song Young-Chang and Kim Seo-Hyung) see things differently...
The last story called “Happy Birthday” brings us a family who are trying to survive a destructive asteroid headed for Earth. Min-Seo (Jin Ji-Hee) with her parents and her uncle (Song Sae-Byok) set up in a basement that they have retrofitted to become a bomb shelter. But as the asteroid approaches Earth, Min-seo soon discovers that the huge asteroid may have something to do with a billiard “Eight Ball” she had thrown away years ago.
“The Doomsday Book” is a different undertaking created by two talented Korean directors. I do have to admit that it feels to be a different flavor, and it feels more like “Twilight Zone” episodes than a Korean movie. The three stories are heavy with symbolism immersed with several philosophical themes. All three tales fall under the themes of human neglect and carelessness, fear of the unknown and just how our own perceptions can limit us. The film certainly wanted to make an impact, and it does. Themes of spirituality and how over-reliance on technology can blind us to a truth. Things that we see and things we ignore bring about our own destruction.
Yes, this trilogy is all about different visions of an apocalypse, but it also brings forth a message that every end may be the beginning of something new. The film comes out swinging, and the two tales by Im may feel rather more light-hearted and subtly humorous, Kim Ji-Woon’s “Heavenly Creature” is darker and much more powerful in what it was trying to say. There is just something about a machine reaching a state of Nirvana, and a state that have eluded most humans. Kim’s direction was strong, and despite the fact that the robot called In-Myung looked uncannily similar to the robot designs of the American film “I-Robot”, I had no issues connecting with the story.
Im’s “Brave New World” and “Happy Birthday” are simple stories whose message comes across easily and yet the script itself felt a little cumbersome in its delivery. “Happy Birthday” moved more like a fairy tale with a message geared towards humanity while “Brave New World” feels more like a sci-fi horror movie until you reach its last act. Im also creates links to the media and just how politics can play a part in an apocalypse. People take advantage of any situation, and the media can definitely influence the people’s opinion.
All three tales of “The Doomsday Book” are superbly acted. The film is a very handsome undertaking, the set designs and the costumes are real neat, and the careful methodical use of its camerawork certainly spoke a lot of its quality. The one issue I may have is the fact that it may well be a little over-reaching with its intended themes, and limits itself with its own screen time. It strikes a chord and yet, it feels a little incomplete. Not to say that it was lacking, but it may feel a little too heavy-handed to the casual movie viewer and may come off as poignant for the experienced movie fan. I do feel that it may require multiple viewings to truly understand what it is trying to say. Yes, “The Doomsday Book” may not be a film that truly reached the plateau it aims for but it is a film worth checking out.
By their very nature, anthology films are a mixed bag. They’ll contain two or three or four smaller stories – essentially ‘shorts,’ cobbled together into one complete film – usually connected by one central theme. The upside is that, if the theme is flexible enough to support multiple interpretations, the audience is treated to an insightful exploration from different (and differing) perspectives. The downside? There … more