In some corners, I can’t offer enough praise for the films coming out of South Korea. It used to be – back when I just started exploring their flicks – they had the market on quality, pulpy actioners featuring slickly dressed guys who were quick with a gun and quicker with a steely glance. Not long after that, their studios amped up their comedy exports, but, as is often the case with humor, those works didn’t translate as easily as one would’ve hoped for. Then, Korean directors charged to the forefront with quality dramas – social commentaries confronting the loss of a national identity brought on by a new generation of young ones – and even some cutting edge adult-themed semi-erotic masterpieces.
Well, throughout the 1970’s, American films blazed a trail with the great disaster picture, and, thankfully, it’s finally found purchase in South Korea in the form of THE TOWER, a stunning tour-de-force that quite frankly is about as close to perfection as I think you can get.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then this may not be for you! Instead, I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
It’s Christmas Eve – the heart of the silly season – and everyone’s wearing a smile inside Seoul’s ultra-chic, ultra-glamorous twin-tower high-rise, Tower Sky: it’s a pair of skyscrapers – joined by a glass sky-bridge – that houses elite tenants, restaurants, and shops. However, something goes unthinkably wrong, putting scores of people in great danger as one of the buildings is struck by an out-of-control helicopter, igniting a blaze that traps residents and guests alike!
Like those American films of the 70’s I referenced above, THE TOWER has a bit of everything in the people department. There are easily a dozen stories involving the wealthy residents and/or the middle class workers and/or the firefighting heroes who respond to the call to danger. Every single character here is presented in the midst of some minor crisis, the brunt of which will all be forced to a head during a magical Christmas Eve celebration. Of course – as is often the case – it’s the reveling in the excess that inevitably causes the disaster that fuels the greater action/drama about to unfold, and it’s all handled with tremendous grace under pressure by the accomplished film veterans (behind the camera and before it) of South Korea.
In fact, THE TOWER is exactly the kind of human drama America’s Hollywood used to make before bloated special effects and CGI-enhanced heroics became the norm. It’s a shame that studios on this side of the ocean appear so disinterested in human characters – a little girl wishing his daddy to have a wife, a veteran firefighter who’ll sacrifice any measure of personal happiness in order to save others, an elderly widower trying to find love again, a pregnant woman being the only one who’ll stop and help others in distress – because there’s far more heart, love, and soul in this TOWER than I’ve seen in anything American-made this year (or last, for that matter). This is exactly the kind of Herculean effort I’d pay twice to see up on the big screen where it belonged with its authentic people in crisis doing what’s necessary to survive as their very high-tech civilization begins falling apart all around them.
Granted, disaster films have always had a reputation with some as being ‘easy entertainment’ – the premise is practically founded on investment with characters and then requiring audiences to care about them. But when it’s all done and delivered as perfectly as is THE TOWER, then that’s a cause for celebration, indeed.
THE TOWER is produced by CJ Entertainment, and DVD distribution is being handled by the same. As for the technical specifications … wow! The film delivers sights and sounds of the highest order with some increasingly spectacular cinematography and some frenetic special effects work. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Korean spoken language release with English subtitles OR there’s an English-dubbing track available. Lastly, there’s a handful of special features, including some deleted scenes (storywise, nothing much is missing) and two production featurettes (each about ten minutes) that deal with bringing this wonderful disaster flick to life.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. Yes, some might dismiss it as entirely formulaic, but it’s a formula of the highest order. Once it gets to the disaster, THE TOWER is a non-stop adrenaline rush of epic proportions. It presses all of the right buttons – personal stories of poignancy, professional stories of heroism against all odds – in just the right places. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s overflowing with impressive stunt work and eye-popping special effects to keep every viewer on the edge of his or her seat! This is exactly the kind of opus expects from South Korea, folks, so sit up and take notice.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at CJ Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of THE TOWER by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
I wasn’t too impressed with the monster flick “Sector 7”, but I guess I was curious how director Kim Ji-Hoon would fare in a disaster movie. “The Tower” is a film that has been inspired by the classic “The Towering Inferno” or at least it appears to be as such. As with most disaster movies such as “Tidal Wave”, “2012”, “Volcano” and “The Day After Tomorrow”, this film takes a simple premise such as a tale of … more