Fantastic Fest 2012: ‘Doomsday Book’, a worthy addition in the ongoing resurgence of anthology films
Directed by Kim Jee-woon and Yim Pil-sung
Screenplay by Kim Jee-woon and Yim Pil-sung
2012, South Korea
Doomsday Book, the Korean anthology co-directed by Yim Pil-sung (Hansel & Gretel) and Kim Jee-woon (The Good, The Bad and The Weird and I Saw The Devil), offers three unique takes of society in decline and the end of the world as we know it. As with most anthologies, it’s a mixed bag, but Doomsday Book tends to impress more than it falters.
The first story, Yim Pil-Sung’s A Brave New World, offers the first vision of the Apocalypse in the form of a zombie outbreak. It’s familiar territory to be sure, and while Yim doesn’t exactly show us anything new with his contribution to the canon of undead cinema, he does muster a fair amount of style and sets the quirky tone that carries through to the third film.
The protagonist of the film, Suk-Woo, a nerdy, testosterone-fueled lab technician is left alone to clean up the pig sty his family inhabits while his parents and nagging sister go on vacation. Home Alone this ain’t and it is immediately apparent that a bio suit would be better suited to the task than a pair of rubber gloves. In a montage that spares none of the gory details, the family’s trash and one dubious rotten apple in particular make their way from a treatment facility to a cattle yard where an unsuspecting bovine is treated to a little something extra in its feed. Meanwhile, Suk-Woo taking a break from the mess at home goes on a blind date with a beautiful young girl for a bit of barbecue. Unfortunately fate intervenes and Suk-woo and the date end up eating the very same infected beef.
As you would expect,most of the town becomes infected and things go south from there. The rest of the film shambles back and forth between many of the grisly scenarios we’ve come to expect from the genre but luckily the social commentary is sharp and supremely self aware which helps to separate Yim’s Brave New World from the pack.
Up next, Kim Jee-woon’s solo contribution slows the pace considerably with The Heavenly Creature. When a technician is called to a Buddhist temple to examine a defective robot he is surprised instead to find a sentient being claiming to be the reincarnation of Buddha. Pretty heady territory as you can imagine and while not technically about the end of the world the film does look to the future to examine the intersection of humanity and technology before following the path to its logical conclusion.
Jee-wood’s first foray into the world of sci-fi produces Doomsday Book’s most memorable moments, and he seems completely comfortable carrying the mantle for Asimov and Roddenberry. Kim’s work for all its high octane action is often given to quiet rumination and along that line Heavenly Creature aims to blow up minds instead of buildings.\
The last film in the anthology, Happy Birthday, picks up tonally where the first segment left off. Although the duo of directors teamed up for the last installment Happy Birthday feels more like Yim Pil-sung’s work. In it a little girl tries to order a replacement 8 ball for her uncles pool table but instead winds up on an alien website inadvertently setting in motion a series of events that will lead to the destruction of civilization. It’s a little unclear how the giant mail order 8 ball hurling towards Earth got there (black holes or something), but it is clear that it signals the end of times. From there the filmmakers kick the absurdity into overdrive and finish strong with a slightly incoherent but satisfying ending.
Doomsday Book may not stand out amongst the myriad of anthology films but it is a worthy addition in the ongoing resurgence of the format. What is encouraging is that fans of Korean genre have yet another solid entry in the careers of two of its most sterling talent. Thankful relief for those waiting for Je-woon’s Last Stand hopefully out next year.
Fantastic Fest runs September 20th – 27th.