Antarctic Journal Review
Six members of a South Korean expedition team set out to reach the “Pole of Inaccessibility” (P.O.I.), which stands in one of the South Pole’s most remote areas. Only one team successfully reached this point fifty years earlier, with many more bowing under the sheer pressure since. This new team faces several hardships, not least of which is the knowledge that they only have sixty days in which to achieve their goal, before the due sunset. As they progress various factors present further difficulties; virus breakouts, disappearances, broken communications and physical traumas. When they find a journal belonging to a British expedition from 1922 they discover that the very same things inflicted the team, who then vanished. Coincidence?
Five years in the making, Antarctic Journal is the product of one director’s struggle to realise his cinematic dream. Im Pil-sung’s blockbuster defies convention in that it’s far from the usual expected type that adorns screens each summer. Though its budget is high and its location impressive, this is by far a more human inclined endeavour, with nothing to distract save for man’s own nature. Filmed in New Zealand under harsh conditions and starring two of South Korea’s most prolific actors, Antarctic Journal is an impressive looking and well acted film, even if it has a few problematic moments.
Well, Antarctic Journal sure does look nice. For a start there’s no way you’d know that New Zealand was the turf on which the film rides. Kudos to the director and crew for pulling off a visually stunning feat, even if it does rely a little too much on sets and noticeable CGI in places. Still, at no point do we not believe that this is a cold and frightful place when you’re uncertain as to where you’re actually going. The Antarctic isn’t painted so much as a beautiful, untapped part of the world, but a plain that can swallow life as easily as it can make popsicles. It’s perfect ground for which to stage a harsh reality faced by our protagonists.
There is enough here to keep the viewer engaged, but the film is a rehashing of just about every important horror/psychological drama to have graced our screens. Antarctic Journal‘s self importance lies with its task of telling a competent story about the human condition. What begins as a tale about man trying to achieve his goals soon turns into a tale of mystery and horror as the people brought into the centre are at war with their own fears and insecurities; in turn sparking off a state of paranoia within the collective and challenging their sanity in the process. Director, Im Pil-sung starts off proceeding normally; it’s almost too clichéd for words: getting to know the guys: moody, happy, sleepy and bashful. One wants to marry his girlfriend when he gets home - we all know how he‘s gonna end up right? But as the film continues it becomes a far more ambiguous piece that is deciphered through the viewer’s own personal interpretation. With several figures all vying for screen time it becomes inevitable that Song Kang-ho and Yoo Ji-tae eventually take charge of the situation, which strums up both positive and negative aspects for obvious reasons.
There’s a slight amount of manipulation going on, which exploits an otherwise straightforward plot, when adding surreal imagery which suggest supernatural overtones or creatures inhabiting the frozen wastelands. Just when you think the film might be turning into The Thing‘s younger brother the director takes us to another place entirely. As a psychological piece though Pil-sung has a firm handle on how he perceives his story. Though his characters are no where near as fleshed out as they could be, they are at least put into desperate situations that require quick fire decisions. His analysis of the human psyche is put to good use several times, though on occasion he drifts all too frequently between the lead players. Song Kang-ho’s Captain is the main driving force behind the tale and as such his history is the deepest, however it’s none too involving and it’s difficult to sympathise with him or anyone else. With that said, everyone does play their roles well. Our lead actors slide comfortably into their characters, while the supporting cast of theatre veterans do amicable jobs of breathing some life into their otherwise anaemic parts.
Enter One doesn’t disappoint fans with their latest DVD release. For those of you who own the more recent Il Mare limited edition set you’ll have a good idea of what I’m talking about. The pack is a sturdy, magnetically secure fold out job, which resembles a book on the outside. Along with the two discs there is a scenario booklet which is held in a pocket. This reads like a journal, covering dates and including some nice, high quality photos. However it is all in Korean.
Antarctic Journal is presented anamorphically in its native 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and it looks pretty ace. For a start the white levels are sublime; the film’s landscape is gloriously captured on DVD and the outdoor scenes are very pleasing on the eye. When we get more intimate inside the tents the colour schemes change to yellow hues, which tend to show up more visible grain; which is nice, particularly as detail is so strong. So colours fare extremely well, skin tones are very good and black levels are rich and deep. The contrast appears to be a little low at times and there is some slight Edge Enhancement, along with some shimmering - the latter of which I can’t figure if it’s down to equipment used during filming or the authoring itself.
For sound (with the exception of the two 2.0 commentaries) we just get Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 EX. That’s about all we need though as this is a very lively track, despite the film being a dialogue heavy piece. The surrounds rely on much of the film’s ambience, which they make good use of. Even with the weather effects sounding particularly impressive, dialogue remains clear throughout and never becomes drowned out by anything else. Kenji Kawai, best known for his work on Ghost in the Shell and numerous other anime projects provides a very interesting score, which is also given plenty of attention on DVD, and toward the end lends itself well for the film’s climax.
As for subtitles, we get optional English ones but they’re perhaps some of the worst I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s not that they’re impossible to follow, they just have awful amounts of grammatical errors, with many a word omission or sentence restructuring. You’ll quite easily get through the feature but it’s definitely an area that could have been improved on.
This is quite a beefy 2-disc set. For the record I don’t understand Korean, so I’m afraid I can’t bring you a complete rundown of the extras. I’ll still mark them in terms of quantity and whether or not I feel they might be worthwhile.
Disc 1 contains two audio commentaries. The first includes the director and actors, while the second leans toward its more technical aspects with various crew.
Disc 2 features all of the real big stuff. Starting with a making of (42.45) we get a good feel for the hard work that was put into the film. Things begin with the actors training, which then moves on to show rehearsal footage and traditional Korean ceremony. We later see the filming take place in New Zealand and see just how difficult it was for those involved to play their parts convincingly. You’ll find a lot of similarities between this and many other making of features; despite no subtitles there are a few bits and pieces to enjoy. CG Effects come next (16.07). As expected this goes into detail about the computer generated effects that were used in the film. Though I can’t translate any of it we see several scenes play out while explanations take place, so I don’t doubt its worth as an interesting featurette. Next up is three deleted scenes, with optional commentary. There’s not much I can say about these or why they were excised. Two trailers follow; these are the original (spoiler laden) theatrical trailer and the slightly better teaser. A nice collection of still that run for 3-minutes come next, followed by a 6-minute piece on the film’s preview screening. Next is a short piece showing us the poster campaign shoot. After these brief features we get back to some longer ones, kicking off with a round-table discussion (18.17) which involves the director and cast. Next is a 14-minute interview with Im Pil-sung. After this interview is another one (5.57), with someone I don’t know. Again I’m at a loss as to who the next speaker is but I believe it’s the photographer (8.30). Next we get four interviews from well known directors, Kim Ji-wun, Ryu Seung-wan, Bong Joon-ho and Jung Yoon-Cheol - I’ve no idea why. Storyboards come next for a few scenes and then we come to the final feature of the disc. Im Pil-sung introduces his 1997 short film “Brushing”. We then move on to the film itself, which runs for 22.16. Unfortunately there are no subtitles included for it, though it does look interesting.
In the end Antarctic Journal is a fine if unremarkable film. It delivers almost everything that it sets out to achieve. As a creepy flick it works on occasion, as a drama it fares well enough, but overall it lacks refinement. Characterization is one of its weakest elements, which shouldn’t be the case for a film that needs to rely on them, yet there’s enough to hold our interest and go along for a fairly easy ride. Enter One’s limited edition is a fine little set, which any fan of the film should pick up as soon as possible.