FILM REVIEW: Doomsday Book (LFF 2012)

Kim Ji-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, I Saw The Devil, Arnie’s forthcoming The Last Stand) and Yim Pil-sung (Hansel & Gretel)’s long-in-the-offing anthology about the end of days arrives as an apocalyptic triptych that achieves a rare consistency in look and theme, but not so much in tone. The central story, Kim’s Heavenly Creature, breaks up the schlock of Yim’s opener Brave New World and the goofiness of his closer Happy Birthday, but still feels like an odd entity unto itself, perhaps much like its central character.

In this future, a robot repairman is called to assess a guide droid at a Buddhist temple that may or may not have achieved enlightenment. It’s certainly the only one of the three to convincingly deal with classic sci-fi themes: what it means to be human, artificial intelligence, playing God, etc. However, at the same time, it all means there’s nothing really here we haven’t seen before. Even the robot itself is practically a carbon copy of the Bjorkbots in Chris Cunningham’s video for ‘All is Full of Love’. It’s not a wholly po-faced philosophical tale (there’s a fun scene with a robo-dog, for instance), but, neat special effects aside, its attempts at profundity are at best well-worn, and at worst, hammy.

That’s not to say the first story is particularly original either. We’re talking a zombie outbreak, for pity’s sake. Nevertheless, Yim has enough fun with the concept to get a passing grade, managing to convincingly suggest a larger scale than its budget could clearly afford. Here, a case of dodgy beef is the cause, and a grisly montage showing its trip to the dinner plate is enough to put you off meat for a good while afterwards.

But probably the most entertaining of the three though is the one where the stakes are at their highest, as the final segment concerns a giant meteor hurtling towards Earth, en route to wipe out the human race. One family though are prepared, and retreat to an underground bunker, keeping tabs on the meteor’s trajectory through the last TV broadcasts (both Brave New World and Happy Birthday feature wonderful comedy snapshots of how the media are dealing with their respective crisis). However, they soon realise one of their number is responsible for the impending apocalypse – and only they have the power to stop it as the countdown nears zero. It’s certainly the silliest of the bunch, but charming and surprising with it too.

Doomsday Book is one of the stronger portmanteaus out there, and doesn’t suffer from the same mixed-bagginess that is often characteristic of the device. If Kim Ji-woon’s offering isn’t quite as satisfying or connected as the others that book-end it, all three are visually and technically impressive, and overall make for an interesting whole.

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