EVERY ROAD LEADS TO…
Post-apocalypse is an arguably easy and tired setting to set genre-driven stories in. Yet with these 3 short films, South Korean post-modernist maestro Kim Ji-woon (who seems to have made post-genre eclecticism his career’s through-line, producing highly recognizable, sometimes epitomical, films in the gangster, western, k-horror and serial killer thriller modes with A Bittersweet Life, The Good, The Bad, The Weird, Tale of Two Sisters and I Saw the Devil respectively) and Yim Pil-sung (of Hansel and Gretel) craft a wildly – and nearly tonally exhaustive – look at the post-apocalyptic narrative and its various declinations. From zombie romance to absurdist asteroid apocalypse, Doomsday Book covers a lot of ground and proves a highly enjoyable anthology to subtly emerge from South Korea.
Initiated 6 years ago, this anthology was initially scheduled to include a short by director Han Jae-rim. His segment (set to be a musical take on an O. Henry story) proved unfilmable and funding fell through, shelving the project for another 4 years. In 2010, finances were put back in order, allowing from the project to resume shooting and allowing Kim and Yim to start making a third segment of their choice, created by both directors and which Yim ultimately directed as well.
With the midway segment “Heavenly Creature”, Kim crafts a contemplative and fascinating portrait of spirituality in an age well past mechanical reproduction and steadfast into the creation of artificial intelligence. When a robot working out of a Buddhist temple in an undisclosed future claims to be Buddha himself, it unleashes existential turmoil for everyone in his proximity, most specifically for the young repairman dispatched by the corporation to fix the anomaly. Without a doubt the strongest segment of the bunch, Kim crafts a Asimovian view of the future rich with questions surrounding belief systems (how valid can it become when it comes from a machine?) and the validity of religion in an entirely digital paradigm. It’s expertly directed by the highly adaptable Kim, as usual, and proves – conveniently, as it is located at the midpoint of the picture – to be the film’s peak achievement.
That said, one might disagree strongly: Yim’s bookend segments are both excellent takes on end-of-the-world science-fiction clichés: the zombie apocalypse and the imminent impact disaster narrative. In “A Brave New World”, Yim introduces the anthology’s connection to spirituality and religion with a symbol remaining potent to this day: the apple. No ordinary apple, though; a Biblical apple of the knowledge of good and evil of sorts…which effectively – and through a series of fascinatingly connected events – unleashes a full-on zombie apocalypse…and the shared destiny of our two protagonists.
For it’s last segment entitled “Happy Birthday”, Doomsday Book takes a resolutely comedic turn with the story of a young girl ordering a black 8 pool ball on the Internet, accidentally thrusting it into a black hole and back at Earth again…that it now threatens to destroy to sheer force of impact. It’s a sweet coda to the film, bringing the thematic concerns surrounding love and family around from the first segment of the anthology and touching upon wonky physics and absurdist imagery in an interesting way.
A change of pace for two director’s whose previous works were horror-related (and especially violent, in the case of Kim’s I Saw the Devil) that remains as intelligent, astutely orchestrated and vibrant as anything one has come to expect from the two South Korean directors, Doomsday Book plays once on July 27th at 18h45.
(Ariel Esteban Cayer)