Directors: Jee-woon Kim, Pil-Sung Yim
Starring: Doona Bae, Joon-ho Bong, Ji-hee Jin
Running time: 115 minutes
Synopsis: DOOMSDAY BOOK is an apocalyptic anthology of three short films, dealing in zombies, meteors and, er, Buddhist robots. Of course.
Would it be remarkably offensive for me to assume Korea and the apocalypse as a logical pairing? Possibly. But DOOMSDAY BOOK did it first. Two more run-of-the-mill concepts bookend an existentialist nightmare of self-aware machines in this ensemble of Korean shorts, all revolving (to an extent) around the apocalypse.
The first, entitled THE NEW GENERATION, is the most generic of the three, being a zombie movie – but, thankfully, it succeeds on almost all fronts. Within its short runtime, director Pil-Sung Yim manages to proffer charming, developed characters we can care about and feel remorse for (when, of course, their inevitable zombification occurs); a sense of humour ingrained deep into the script and dialogue; and, perhaps most strikingly of all, a sense of bloodlust and disgust without ever becoming too gory.
This effect is achieved sublimely through exquisite camerawork – extreme close-ups of sizzling, spitting meat, rotting garbage and saliva-dripping lips as our characters chew their way into a deadly virus; it’s all extremely revolting, but helps us to understand exactly what’s coming and also serves as a unique trade off for blood and gore. The tale trails off rather than ending with a bang, but there’s something that’s almost sickly sweet about what comes before that sets this zombie tale apart from the rest.
Next up is that existentialist tale – and the one that’s least removed from any true apocalyptic-ness, instead merely hinting at terrors we might one day face ourselves. Robots are commonplace in this future-set short – which is Jee-woon Kim’s directorial contribution to the anthology – and a supposedly enlightened android at a Buddhist colony threatens to have become self-aware.
While the most interesting of the trio, THE HEAVENLY CREATURE is perhaps the slowest (several journalists at LFF fell asleep at this point in the screening), but its themes were, for this reviewer at least, captivating enough. The short explores all manner of societal and moral issues, ranging from fear and fate to religion and existence. The message is frank and brutal, but delivered through soft tones and clean, polished footage.
Rounding off the trilogy is a meteor tale with a twist: a young girl orders a replacement eight ball for her father’s pool table, which arrives two years later in the form of a comet threatening to collide with earth. While humour is present throughout the entirety of DOOMSDAY BOOK, it is perhaps most focused in the preposterousness of HAPPY BIRTHDAY; a world aware that it may be coming to an end falls to pieces, with a hilarious newscast.
The narrative is solid, but the acting quality here is certainly the weakest of the three – and this is also the tale that does the least to push boundaries and set itself apart, aside from the aforementioned preposterousness. Still, it’s engaging enough to hold your interest to the end of DOOMSDAY BOOK; a collection which, while not the easiest of watches, is certainly worthy of your time.
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