BFI London Film Festival 2012: ‘Doomsday Book’ is eccentrically charming

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Doomsday Book
Written by Kim Jee-Woon & Yim Pil-Sung
Directed by Kim Jee-Woon & Yim Pil-Sung
South Korea, 2012

The triumvirate anthology film gets a welcome revival in this South Korean horror / SF hybrid picture, with a mixture of social criticism thrown in for oriental larks. After filming two segments of the tale back in 2006 – and its early incarnations glisten with some social concerns of the last decade – directors Kim Jee-woon (best known for A Tale Of Two Sisters) & Yim Pil-sung (Hansel & Gretel) provide three tales of a Twilight Zone flavour, all overshadowed by a dystopian theme, from extinction level threat asteroids of a spherical variety to a robotic revolution, the three part film initiated with a gutsy episode of  pandemic pandemonium.

In the first tale (subtitled ‘Heaven’s Creation’) a young scientist is left home alone and somehow manages to infect himself and his new girlfriend with a plague inducing virus, swiftly contaminating the world its victims lumber through the smouldering streets of Seoul, disseminating the disease in a tale that had been inspired by the mid decade SARS and bird-flu media hysteria. In the second (‘The New Generation’), a more studied and serious tale mechanically unspools in a very near future populated by service droids, mostly functioning menial tasks and companionship aids (if you catch my drift), yet one curious autominon  assigned to a buddhest temple achieves a state nirvana and become self aware. Although there is a little too much specchifying  it doesn’t attempt to answer the questions it raises – when does consciousness become sacred? What is self awareness? Where does belief and he soul intersect, in the silicon or just squidgy? – pefering to let the existential questions it poses to be chanted by the viewer. In the third and most circular satisfying tale (The Christmas Gift) an asterioid has been detected which is hurtling to earth, leaving the human race a mere twenty minutes to settle their affairs and prepare for the inevitable. A young family whose father runs a pool hall – and this is important for particularly crazy reasons that I won’t spoil here – retreat to their underground bunker to watch the end of the world, mostly through some hilarious news anchor  reportage which is the highlight of the entire picture.

The effects on the film are well rendered as befits a big screen excursion, with the robotic designs in the films second segment deserving particular, autominous praise. The philosophic discord sits nervously with the casual destruction of the bookend pieces, but there is enough humor and invention in all three segements to keep developments strolling along at an amiable and attention holding pace. Doomsday Book’s literary merit will rest on whether you are happy to divide your cinema into three distinct tales, with zero connections unless you consider its dystopian umbrella as some loose membrane which links these three entertaining, if immediately forgetable fables.  Two parts apocalyptic whimsy to one part cerebral resistance Doomsday Book isn’t quite the end of the world, but fans of cult and Asian cinema should find it eccentrically charming.

– John McEntee

The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs Oct. 10th  – 21st.  Learn more about Doomsday Book.

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