Films, Horror, Reviews, Sci Fi / Fantasy, South Korea

Doomsday Book

Directors Kim Ji-woon and Yim Pil-sung present three visions for the end of mankind…

Doomsday Book very nearly didn’t happen. Conceived as a trio of films by Kim Ji-woon (The Good, The Bad, The Weird, A Bittersweet Life, A Tale Of Two Sisters), Yim Pil-sung (Hansel And Gretel, Antarctic Journal) and Han Jae-rim (The Show Must Go On, Rules Of Dating, The Face Reader), the first two completed their films in 2006, only to run into problems with financing leaving Han’s third segment unshot.

The film remained incomplete for years, until a new financing meant Kim and Lim could collaborate on a last segment to finish the film. (The thought of putting a bit of extra stock in Kim Ji-woon’s filmography before his US debut The Last Stand after the disappointing performance of I Saw The Devil no doubt added to the appeal. Indeed, the film was pre-sold to several territories including Germany.)

The result is a surprisingly even anthology of tales, if one that doesn’t quite fulfil its promise.

In the first tale from director Yim Pil-sung, ‘Brave New World’, a researcher Yoon Seok-woo (Ryu Seung-beom, The Unjust, The Berlin File, Crying Fist) unknowingly sets off a chemical change in the food chain when garbage he empties out while the rest of his family go on holiday is feed to cattle, becoming the first victim when he and a date Kim Yoo-min (Go Joon-hee, Architecture 101, Hansel And Gretel) order beef at a barbeque. Soon he, his date and the rest of the human race are suffering from a virus that unleashes their primal urges and ultimately turns them into flesh-eating zombies.

Yim’s ambition doesn’t quite seem to hold the film together, flipping from comedy to horror to post-apocalyptic love story (of a sort). It’s not unlike Deranged in tone, which ended up coming out the same year though was filmed long after; the humour undercuts the horror somewhat, meaning you’re not entirely sure what Yim is aiming towards.

Yim seems more preoccupied with lampooning the media, which he does pretty well through an extend sequence of news broadcasts (though it actually seems to be more about circumnavigating some narrative/logic issues and move the story on). Funniest of all is a cameo from director Bong Joon-ho as a commentator obsessed with conspiracy theories that all come back to the government election, that’s when he’s not serenading with a guitar.

As the final scene shows our newly-zombified Kim offering Yoon an apple, the biblical Adam and Eve imagery is not lost; mankind, tempted by technology into corrupting nature, are thrust into a brave new world.

Kim Ji-woon provides the more sombre middle segment ‘Heavenly Creature’, a technician, Park Do-won (Kim Kang-woo, A Better Tomorrow, Ha Ha Ha, The Taste Of Money), is requested to check a robot at a monastery that claims not only to have become sentient, but also achieved Buddhist enlightenment. Confirming the robot is in good working order, he claims unqualified to confirm whether the robot truly is enlightened.

The case soon comes to the attention of the robotics corporation boss, chairman Kang Seong-cheol (Song Yeoung-chang, The Foul King, Duelist, An Affair, Thirst) who argues the robot must be destroyed before more become sentient and decide to replace mankind.

Do-won rushes the robots defense… but the final scene hints that it is way too late anyway.

In the final story, Yim Pil-sung presents ‘Happy Birthday’, about a young girl, Park Min-seo (Jin Ji-hee, Cello, Hansel And Gretel), who orders a replacement 8 Ball for her pool-obsessed father and uncle from a mysterious website, only to find an asteroid that looks exactly like a giant 8 Ball is rushing towards the Earth, threatening all existence.

Again light in tone, Yim once again lampoons media as they cover the impending doom, this time with an appearance by Ryu Seung-soo (The President’s Barber, Meet Mr. Daddy, The Front Line) as a newscaster whose cheating ways are called out on set.

Overall, the film is much more coherent in feel and pacing than anthologies tend to be. Yim’s ‘bookends’ frame the film in feel and themes. The stories are smartly driven, but the ideas here are far from revolutionary. You can’t help think that both directors, particularly Yim, pack too many asides to the basic story, risking overwhelming them with cameos and unnecessary distractions considering the short running time.

I guess the flipside of the even-handed, consistent direction is that you might not get the stinkers, but you also don’t get the real gems either. It’s still a pretty impressive, enjoyable sci-fi flick with a hell of a cast, which also includes Bae Boo-na (Air Doll, The Host, Barking Dogs Never Bite) and Song Sae-byok (Sector 7, Mother, The Servant).

It’s also a rare entry into the horror and sci-fi genres for last year (2012) in Korea. Let’s hope we see a few more…

Doomsday Book is available on Korean DVD from Yesasis.com, and on US Blu-Ray and DVD from Amazon.

Home media details

DVD comes with a commentary and footage from the press screening and VIP premiere. As you can probably guess for a Korean DVD, none of which come with English subtitles (though I’m not exactly bothered about the last two items).

Worth noting, though, that from what I can tell the US versions have no extras at all.

About the author

Andy H
Founder of easternKicks.com, which he's been running since 2002. And it's all thanks to Monkey, Water Margin and those damn fantastic 80s Hong Kong action movies! Andy works as a graphic designer in London... More »
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