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Review: Doomsday Book (Directed by Kim Ji-woon & Yim Pil-sung) (Fantasia 2012)

Aug. 2, 2012by: Chris Bumbray


PLOT: A South Korean anthology of sci-fi tales. The first, finds a gawky military researcher exposed to some bad beef, which quickly unleashes a zombie plague of apocalyptic proportions on Seoul. In the second, a repairman for a company that makes robots finds himself defending a company drone that was assigned to a Buddhist temple, and subsequently attained nirvana, and is now slated to be taken offline by the manufacturer. Finally, after a young girl accidently destroys her uncles magic 8-ball, she orders him a new one online- only to find, two years later that the delivery is coming to Earth in the form of a twenty-mile long 8-ball asteroid that threatens to destroy civilization as we know it.

REVIEW: An anthology film is always a tricky thing. Even if one part of the film is great, theres usually at least one weak link, even as proved by the relatively solid V/H/S- which also happens to be playing at this years edition of Fantasia. The South Koreans seem to have a particularly affinity for them, as Ive seen a few such films play the festival over the years- but in a tribute to how distinctly unmemorable they were, and I cant remember their names.


As such, DOOMSDAY BOOK is an uneven film. Of the three stories, Id say only one was really good, while the other two both have their moments, but tried my patience a bit as an audience member. The first story features a distinctly South Korean take on the zombie genre. I happen to love cinema from this region, and Im certain theyve got an awesome zombie flick up their sleeves, even if this isnt quite it. Yip Pil-sungs film starts off great. I loved the fact that the plague is the result of a mad-cow style disease- with this being the result of some REALLY mad cows, complete with a brutal look at cow being butchered for food- which suggests that the director must be a vegetarian from the disgust he shows at the consummation of meat. Sadly, the story quickly peters out once the zombie plague begins, although I appreciated the comical way Yip depicts the invasion, complete with a funny televised debate, where the various political parties argue like children, and, as the apocalypse nears, put aside their differences to play a little music to usher in the apocalypse.


The second story- which is the lone installment directed by Kim Ji-woon, the director of the amazing I SAW THE DEVIL, THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE WEIRD- along with the upcoming Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback flick THE LAST STAND (Kim actually recorded a greeting for the Fantasia crowd from the lab where hes cutting the film). This part plays out a lot like Issac Asimovs story I. ROBOT (far, far different from the Will Smith vehicle) - minus the murder. It poses some interesting questions about what really makes a man- suggesting that the soul isnt something necessarily limited to the living. Its the most interesting, and consequently my favorite of the stories, even if it does get bogged down a bit by a climatic debate that goes on a little long. The acting in this one is great, and the robot design, while low-tech, is solid.

The final and goofiest of the three involves the killer 8-ball, and if you take this as a comedy, its actually pretty diverting. Yip Pil-sungs second contribution to the film, this one again features some phony newscasts leading up to the end, and here- Yip shows the anchorman and woman having complete nervous breakdowns on the air. This part of the film is really funny, even if the A-story of the film, involving the young girl and her family is a little weak.

All in all, I didnt totally love, or totally dislike any of the films in the anthology, but on the whole its not a bad watch. While it probably helps if youre a South Korean film fan, the mix of sci-fi, with quirky comedy makes this a diverting, if not entirely memorable watch.

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