Discovering Korean Cinema: Science Fiction

The South Korean film industry has grown tremendously over the past few years. As a result so has its income and Science Fiction is a genre that sees huge amounts of money being spent on it as each year passes.

Within the last few years, South Korean film makers have worked hard at bringing us to the best of their abilities, technologically advanced movies. I shall be taking a look at five perfect examples of style over substance and talk about the highlights and problems that are facing South Korea’s most problematic genre.

2009: Lost Memories (2002)
Staring: Toru Nakamura, Jang Dong-gun, Ken Mitsuishi, Seo Jin-ho, Goo Shin, Ahn Kil-kang.
Director: Lee Si-myung.

On August 15th, 1945 Japan and the United States of America won World War 2 and Eastern Asia was introduced as a new nation, forming ‘The great East Asian union’. This new nation becomes the Japanese empire, financially the second most powerful country after the U.S.A. With these changes also comes terrorism, people who continue to fight for a cause and who strive to disrupt the great Japanese nation. Now, in the year 2009 two officers working for the Japanese Bureau of Investigation must stop a major terrorist attack that could change history.

What happens when you take an interesting concept and then screw it up beyond any help - you get 2009: Lost Memories. Released in 2002, this was South Korea’s first real attempt at a large budget Sci-Fi film that was tipped to rival Hollywood’s blockbuster features.

What starts out promisingly enough soon degenerates into uninspired action and self importance. Technically it is also messy, with poor CGI and only decent set designs worthy of merit. This Sci-Fi with a twist is nothing more than overly patriotic garbage that tries to provide a thoughtful outcome but fails miserably, leaving a sour taste by the time the credits role.

EnterOne Korean R0 (2-Disc SE, 16:9 NTSC, DTS) approx. £16
EnterOne Korean R0 (LE 2DVD version + 311page book) approx. £40

Full review by Kevin Gilvear: 2009: Lost Memories DVD Review

The Limited Edition set is now extremely rare and carries a high price tag, but in all honesty unless you are a LE nut it really is not worth the effort or cash required to source as the book is entirely in Korean, leaving only the pretty pictures to look at.

Yesterday (2002)
Staring: Kim Seung-woo, Choi Min-su, Kim Yun-jin, Kim Seon-ah.
Director: Jeong Yun-su.

It’s 2020 - North and South Korea have finally unified.
A series of murders have begun to take place. Scientists working on human genome experiments are being killed off one by one. A mysterious man by the name of Goliath is behind the killings and it’s up to a team of hardened officers to put a stop to his onslaught.

Yesterday was a huge box-office flop in its home territory and given this is one of the laziest movies to come out of South Korea in recent years it is easy to see why. The entire cast plod along looking increasingly bored while the action scenes are messy and the storyline is so tedious that you are likely to struggle sitting it out.

Where 2009: Lost Memories at least tried to come up with a unique concept, Yesterday takes its cue from a tired script and offers little character development and shoddy chase sequences. The digital effects are very disappointing and overall this is a film that has no decent excuse as to why it was even made in the first place.

CJ Entertainment Korean R3 (2-Disc SE, 16:9 NTSC, DTS) approx. £12

Full review by Kevin Gilvear: Yesterday DVD Review

Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (2002)
Staring: Im Eun-kyung, Kim Hyun-sung, Jeong Do-hong, Myung Kye-nam, Kang Ta, Jin Xing, Kim Jin-pyo.
Director: Jang Sun-woo.

Joo, a delivery boy who plays computer games far too often bumps into a mysterious girl selling cheap lighters. Purchasing one before she disappears Joo finds the lighter has a phone number on it and decides to make a call. Soon he finds himself drawn into a game that is all too real.

Resurrection of the Little Match Girl is one big mess of a film. The concept could have worked but director, Jang Sun-woo gives us an ill-conceived production from start to finish, that is more embarrassing than entertaining.

Whilst his earlier film Lies was better handled, notably because the material was simple and the lead actors could carry it, this struggles to combine all the necessary elements needed to make it work and despite having healthy amounts of action it's about as exciting as having your cheeks clamped.

Science Fiction is not the director's strong point, nor are action scenes. Watching this film I am even surprised that he managed to get decent characterization out of his previous effort.

Full review by Kevin Gilvear:: Resurrection of the Little Match Girl Film Review

Asian Vision Danish R2 (4:3 LB, Korean DTS) approx. £18

Universal Pictures European Asian movie label is currently the only way to see this movie with English subtitles via a legitimate source. Having never seen this DVD I cannot comment on the quality, but should you choose to give the film a spin then DVDoo are a respected and relatively easy to use (given the language gap) Danish Retailer.

Wonderful Days (2003)
Voice actors: Choi Ji-hoon, Oh In-sung, En Young-seon, Gi Joo-bong, En Seo-woo.
Director: Kim Mun-saeng.

The year is 2142 A.D. Environmental pollution has left the world in a state of depression and war. ECOBAN - a shielded city founded by scientists is kept functioning by the DELOS system that was created to sustain itself by using pollution as a means for energy. Their military oversee ECOBAN's safety but is weary of a common enemy, the Marrians - an organization out to destroy ECOBAN.

ECOBAN's leaders can no longer cope with the trouble caused by the masses below and conclude that Marr must be destroyed for the protection of their city. Concerned that the DELOS system is now running out of resources they must use the Marrians for processing, using their bodies to provide fuel for ECOBAN's life support.

Dr.Noah, a former ECOBAN scientist is now an exiled freedom fighter who has enlisted a young man by the name of Shua. His mission is to break into ECOBAN's data centre and attain information pertaining to these horrific plans and destroy the system.

Wonderful Days is perhaps the most interesting Science Fiction piece to date. This animated feature fuses traditional cel animation with computer generated images. Seven years in the making and with a budget of $10,000,000 the film became one of the most hyped productions ever to come from South Korea.

While the film isn’t flawless in its mixing of styles, it provides plenty of eye candy and some of the action set pieces are successful. Visually the film is a very fine attempt at utilizing miniature sets and computer technology and provides more of a taster of things to come, with film makers now fully embracing the art of such technical feats.

Letting down the film is a jumbled script. Several stories are thrown at the viewer at once, as if we didn’t have enough with the ecological message we also get a tired love triangle which only serves to bring down the films initial message and by the end we just don’t care about any of it.

Bitwin Korean R3 (2-Disc SE Theatrical Cut, 16:9 NTSC, DTS) approx. £12
Bitwin Korean R3 (3-Disc LE Director's Cut, 16:9 NTSC, DTS) approx. £18

Full review by Michael Mackenzie: Wonderful Days SE DVD Review

The theatrical cut is the version covered above and reviewed in full by Michael Mackenzie. The director's cut edition looks to be a superb set with all-new bonus materials but whether the additional 8 minutes added back into the film help I cannot say having not yet had the opportunity to see the new cut.

Natural City (2003)
Staring: Yoo Ji-tae, Lee Jae-eun, Yoon Chan, Seo Rin, Jeong Eun pyo, Jeong Do-hong, Shin Gu.
Director: Min Byung-chun.

In the year 2080 advances in technology have allowed scientists to develop cyborgs that are capable of emotion, with Artificial Intelligence and strength higher than that of any man. There is a setback to this, however; the cyborgs only have a short lifespan and are set to expire after a few years.

In an attempt to prolong their life, a group of combat cyborgs attack the Neucom genetics research centre. The MP's are called in to action, led by Noma whose mission along with his team and top man, R is to destroy the renegade cyborgs.

Heavily influenced by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Natural City is without a doubt the finest looking live-action Korean science fiction film to date.

Unfortunately it has a script that smells of mouldy fruit and once again we have to endure two hours of drivel. Basically the script is a re-working of Blade Runner, which I don’t really have a problem with but the way in which it’s tackled lets it down immensely. With un-interesting and non-sympathetic characters, Natural City is a victim of talent less script writers and a heavy focus on visual effects. This just isn’t enough.

KD Media Korean R3 (2-Disc LE Tin, 16:9 NTSC, DTS) approx. £14

Full review by Kevin Gilvear: Natural City DVD Review

Science Fiction film making in South Korea has a little way to go before it can compete amongst the best of what‘s around. Time after time we are seeing promising films that are only let down by appalling scripting, but if more time and effort can be put in to honing these elements then we will see some remarkable features in the future. The technology is getting there but unfortunately fancy looks aren’t everything - It’s about time Korea learned that.

Stay tuned for my next feature in which I shall be taking you through selected films from South Korea's Horror genre.

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