Director: Kim Ji-woon, Yim Pil-Sung
Runtime: 115 minutes
In the omnibus Korean film Doomsday Book, two different filmmakers tackle 2012’s running theme (the apocalypse) with three different short films that are essentially stitched together. While this was originally slated as a three-filmmaker fare, Han Jae-Rim (The Show Must Go On) failed to successfully complete his end of the bargain, thus forcing the other two directors Kim Ji-Woon (I Saw the Devil) and Yim Pil-Sung (Hansel & Gretel) to collaborate on the final, third chapter.
The result is a mixed bag of horror genre tropes and some interesting, fairly original concepts. However, the uneven tone between each chapter prevents the film from coalescing into anything more than brief moments of comedic stupidity. While this injection of satire and humor is interesting, it doesn’t seem to gel with the differentiating styles of each film which varies from zany gore to meditative existential thought. Despite the bizarre inconsistency between each short film, Doomsday Book is still oddly compelling for both fans of Ji-Woon and those obsessed with the end of days.
The first short, A Brave New World, is directed by Yim Pil-Sung and centers on a zombie outbreak that occurs due to rampant pollution. It starts off with an almost sitcom-ish tone, wherein an awkward young researcher, Yoon Seok-woo (Ryu Seung-beom), is forced to watch his parents’ apartment while his family takes a vacation. When forced to throw out a disgusting jar of rotting kimchi in the trash a series of events unexpectedly unleash a bizarre zombie disease; it’s like Contagion meets 28 Days Later through the lens of a slapstick satirical comedy. The degree of camp you enjoy in your zombie fare will determine how well the film’s humor and gross out moments successfully work or fall flat.
The second chapter, Heavenly Creature, is arguably the most compelling and the main reason to seek out Doomsday Book. The director, Kim Ji-woon, has a rabid fanbase which continues to grow with each fascinating foray into different stylized genres — such as the horror film A Tale of Two Sisters or the spaghetti western The Good, the Bad, the Weird. The story centers around a robot living in a buddhist monastery who’s become enlightened and begins preaching sermons in the temple; this triggers a recall by the company who manufactured the robot, but the technician who is dispatched questions whether or not it’s right to deactivate an artificial life that has become sentient. Much more serious in tone — and featuring fantastic special effects that bring the robot to life, via a blend of CG and real prosthetics — this zen-like short is the highlight of Doomsday Book.
Unfortunately, the final chapter suffers from similar problems as the first section: a lack of substance that prevents anything from being more than a childish parody. Directed by Pil-Sung (with a co-directing credit going to Ji-woon), the plot follows a young girl who orders a meteorite to crash into Earth by accidentally logging into an alien website. While there are moments of genuine outlandishness, the comedic timing seems off, and what starts as an innocent comic-strip ends up being more melodrama than anything else. Doomsday Book is similarly uneven when viewed as the sum of its parts, despite having a few truly compelling moments strewn between the doldrums.
Doomsday Book screens July 11th and 12th at Lincoln Center.
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