Doomsday Book | Varied Celluloid

Doomsday Book

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 30 - 2012

Doomsday Book (2012)
Director: Kim Ji-woon and Yim Pil-sung
Writers: Yim Pil-sung, Lee Hwan-hee, Kim Ji-woon, and Jang Jong-ah
Starring: Ryu Seung-beom, Kim Kang-woo, Song Sae-byok, and a cameo by Bae Doona



The Plot: Doomsday Book is an anthology film made up of three distinct stories. Although they are all very different from one another, they each seem to focus on the future and in some ways: the end of mankind. The first story, A Brave New World, tells the story of a black sheep family member who unknowingly inspires a zombie apocalypse. Yoon Seok-woo (Ryu Seung-beom) is the brow-beaten son of a very childish family. Despite being away for a very long time, Yoon comes home to find his family has barely been cleaning after themselves. When he takes out the trash, he doesn’t realize that the rotten apple that he disposes of will later be fed to a farm full of cows that will provide the beef that he is going to inevitably eat while on a very important date. This beef is of course now contaminated, and Yoon slowly comes down with a new form of sickness that eerily resembles the zombie apocalypse. As the world falls apart around him, Yoon finds an old part of him still yearning for something more. The second story in the trilogy is Heavenly Creature. This short focuses on a robot who was sent to work at a monastery, but has seemingly become too self aware. This robot seems to believe that he is the reincarnated Buddha, and the monks within the monastery all seem to agree. The majority of the story follows the debate as to whether the creature simply believes this because he has a short circuit, or whether he believes it because it is true. The third short is a humorous look once again at the end of the world. Happy Birthday tells the story of a little girl who has the most unfortunate birthday known to man. Her special day coincides with the day that a massive meteor is supposed to crash into the earth and destroy all life on the planet. As the meteor drives faster towards our planet, it becomes clear that this little girl has a secret that may actually help save all of mankind.


The Review
If you are the producer of a South Korean film, there is no quicker way to get me to watch your film than attaching one name to it: Kim Ji-woon. The fantastic director of The Good, The Bad, and The Weird, The Foul king, A Bittersweet Life, and I Saw the Devil, he is easily one of the best filmmakers working today. On the verge of making his North American debut with The Last Stand, it seems that Kim Ji-woon’s name has never been more in demand. Doomsday Book is not fully a Kim Ji-woon title, but it is an anthology film featuring a short directed by him, so it should easily gather up a decent amount of press due simply for this fact. Now, I have seen my fair share of South Korean films, but Doomsday Book has to be my first actual anthology title. A genre that is certifiably hit or miss, anthology movies are very easy to mess up, and whenever I see a genre movie using this format – it is most often trying to replicate the magic that was found in Creepshow. Well, Doomsday Book certainly has flirtations with the horror genre, but ahead of everything it seems to be a true science fiction anthology. Even in the one story that focuses on a zombie holocaust, the plot seems to come from a scientific approach that keeps it feeling less like a Romero film and more like The Omega Man. With all of this said, how does this South Korean scifi anthology movie actually stack up? Read on to find out.

A Brave new World is the first short within this trilogy of science fiction tales. Directed by Yim Pil-sung (Hansel & Gretel), this entry is perhaps the weakest of the trilogy – but with that said, it is still ridiculously entertaining and surprisingly effective. One of the first things I picked up on within the segment was its prevalent humor. Much of the comedy within the short revolves around our leading man who is forced to deal with his slobbish family. His reactions, most notably his facial contortions which are a wee bit over-the-top, as he discovers numerous nasty things surrounding him at home… these small character moments are arguably the best parts within the short. The movie digs deep into the details and shows various aspects of life that can be quite disgusting, and the short seems to have some questions dealing with environmental issues while also spurring some general germ-related fears. Pretty soon, the story begins to twist and turn into a zombie scenario which presents an entirely new and more outrageous line of questions within the movie. The short does a great job bringing out some of the societal paranoia that was felt within the original Dawn of the Dead, and it also seems to call on Romero’s The Crazies when the movie showcases the emotional response that is given to this outbreak of sudden violence within the citizenry. Generally, this short shows the best example of the lunacy that public journalism has when confronted by pure pandemonium. There is a sequence within this short that showcases a debate program, on a news broadcast that is supposed to focus on the sudden outbreak of rampant violence being caused by zombies, and it all devolves into a bout of folk singing – which I did not understand at all… but I’m pretty sure I was not meant to understand it. Despite the insanity, I still found myself laughing right along with the movie.

Heavenly Creature is the second story within the film and is directed by Kim Ji-woon. A science fiction tale that crosses paths with spirituality, the story seems patently ridiculous from the outset. The question of whether Buddha could be reincarnated into a robot seems rather silly, even in the confines of a science fiction title. Why a soul would be born into a non-living creature, I have no idea. Ultimately, it seems as if Woon’s short deals primarily with many ideas relating to human interaction in a world where technology seems to be taking over all facets of humanity. This vision of the future is both filled with classical Korean culture, but also has the look of a sanitized world that we might envision within our future. This futuristic landscape and the ideas presented in the film are not entirely unique, but the combination of the philosophical ideas put forth along with the dichotomic imagery and questions makes this one very worthwhile.

The idea of a robot replacing the human form, or even becoming spiritual, isn’t a new concept, but it has good reason for being a road that is so well traveled within science fiction history. This short certainly piqued my own curiosity, because I often find myself thinking about the way technology and mechanics can so easily be related to the human form. It seems as if all facets of technology are directly related to mankind’s own attempt at understanding itself. Electrical wiring can easily be seen as a manmade attempt at replicating a biological neuron, but done on a much larger scale. If you look at the connection that our nerves make at the spine, I personally see a heavy resemblance to ribbon cables like those found in a computer. If voltage were the life force of a mechanical item, then it could also surely be seen as a synonym for the veins found in an animal. So, if man were ever able to decipher all of the mysteries that define humanity’s self awareness, then who is to say it couldn’t be harnessed at some point via a technological means. Yet, the question then remains about the ethics around artificially creating self-aware individuals. In the film, there becomes an immediate backlash towards a robotic creature attaining a higher artistic or spiritual edge in comparison to its human counterparts, but the short seems to argue in favor of a progressive way of thinking when it comes to these issues – however, the argument ultimately remains up in the air.

Happy Birthday is the final installment in the trilogy and once again deals with a end-of-the-world scenario. Once again directed by Yim Pil-sung, this third piece shares a lot in common with Brave New World. The obvious comparison can be made in the fact that both stories focus on the end of human life on the planet earth, but in comparison to Heavenly Creature, Brave New World was certainly a very humorous title. Happy Birthday, however, can be seen as an outright black comedy. Although the destruction of the earth along with all human beings doesn’t seem like the sort of content that cries out as outlandishly funny, this short presents a very humorous take on a very dire situation. Featuring some very strong performances and some witty writing, Happy Birthday may be the most entertaining amongst this strong trilogy. It is less methodical and heavy with philosophy when compared to Kim Ji-woon’s entry, but it certainly delivers a sincere spirit along with the gags that are present throughout the movie.


The Conclusion
I have very few bad things to say about Doomsday Book. Wickedly entertaining from start to finish, this is one of the better Korean films I have seen in a while. Not everyone will agree, but I think this is certainly a title worth owning if you enjoy it half as much as I did. I give it a four out of five. While not an instant “classic,” this movie is certainly a great deal of fun. Doomsday Book is due for release within North America on December 11th, 2012. Snag up the Bluray and be on your way to enjoying all of the apocalyptic entertainment!




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