Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

You could say we've had it coming for a long time.

Doomsday Book (aka In-Ryu-Myul-Mang Bo-Go-Seo, or "Report On The Destruction Of Mankind") was originally conceived as an anthology of three shorts about humanity's end time, to be directed respectively by Yim Pil-sung (Hansel And Gretel), Kim Ji-woon (A Tale Of Two Sisters, the 'Memories' segment of Three) and Han Jae-rim. Yet even though Yim and Kim completed the first and second segments in 2006, the financing fell through before Han could make his third part. Years passed, and in 2010 a new backer emerged, enabling Yim to conceive and shoot an entirely different finale to replace Han's intended musical SF version of O Henry's short story The Gift Of The Magi. Finally released in 2012, a year full of suitably apocalyptic associations, Doomsday Book sandwiches Kim's serious and savoury speculative fiction between Yim's two altogether more absurdist slices of Armageddon.

In fact, these three stories are concerned as much with renewal as with destruction. Yim's A Brave New World documents the rise of a viral zombie outbreak in Seoul, and like Steven Soderbergh's Contagion (released earlier but made after) it traces the genesis and rapid transmission of the disease from patient zero – in this case, a carnivorous young student named Suk-woo (Ryu Seung-bum) who is doing his compulsory service in a military research lab. Yet the outbreak is caused not by some secret chemical weapon (as in the Return Of The Living Dead franchise), but rather by the meat of livestock fed on rubbish recycled from Suk-woo's family apartment.

There is also recycling involved in Yim's chosen emphases – for while all the social satire expected of superior zombie fiction is present and correct, with our age of excessive consumption and political idiocy very much in the firing line, all this remains confined to the film's background while Yim instead focuses on the evolving relationship between Suk-woo and his belle Yoo-min (Ko Jun-hee), both pre- and post-infection. By presenting a half-rotten apple as both the outbreak's source and the couple's eventual love token, Yim retraces his modern tale of innocence lost and appetites gained all the way back to Edenic forbidden fruit and a more prototypical fall of humanity. Evidently, when what goes around comes around, we are what we eat.

Yim's other contribution, Happy Birthday, portrays mass devastation in a similarly light-hearted fashion, with the media's surreally funny commentary on the proceedings once again proving particularly hilarious – although here the central storyline is also utterly (indeed, literally) oddball. It begins with little girl Min-seo (Jin Ji-hee) accidentally breaking the beloved eight ball of her pool-obsessed father (Lee Seung-jun), and desperately searching online for a replacement. Two years later, and a large object is hurtling through space towards Seoul. With just 12 hours left till impact, Min-seo is settling in her family's underground bomb shelter when she is suddenly confronted with the bizarre causal chain of events that has led to this calamity, and so, with the help of her father, mother (Youn Se-oh) and uncle (Song Sae-byeoh), races against the clock to prevent her fellow citizens getting snookered.

"Perhaps," Min-seo will comment later, "it was time for that old eight ball to get destroyed anyway – just like this place." Her casually blithe attitude reflects the overall tone of a piece where large-scale disaster is brought down to a banal domestic level. Yet Yim's crazy comedy perfectly contains and offsets the sobriety of Kim's middle piece The Heavenly Creature – which is also the best of the collection. Set in a future not unlike the one envisaged in Stephen Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) or Alex Proyas' I, Robot (2004), this cerebral SF drama posits a world where the difference between humans and the robots designed to serve them has been gradually eroding. As it opens, Park Do-won (Kim Kang-woo), technician for android-building multintional UR, has been called out to a Buddhist monastery to assess an RU-4 model guide robot which, according to the resident monks, has achieved spiritual enlightenment.

Unable to find anything defective in the circuitry and wiring of the RU-4 (now known as In-myung), Park is confused, even angered, by this machine that appears to have forgotten its place – yet as UR's executives and the Eastern church's highest authority together determine that In-myung and all other RU-4's must be destroyed as an abomination and affront to the human spirit, Park finds himself coming around to the idea that perhaps this imperturbable android just might be a clockwork Buddha. This heady exploration of the relationship between the human, the mechanical and the divine is a provocative dialogue between interests all at once material, spiritual and existential. Here otherwise ancient tenets of Buddhist philosophy receive highly unusual and revivifying expression, and one robot's act of self-abnegation might just be the beginning of an extraordinary revolution. It's been a long time coming.

Reviewed on: 29 Sep 2012
Share this with others on...
A trilogy of apocalyptic science fiction tales.

Director: Kim Jee-woon, Yim Pil-sung

Writer: Kim Jee-woon, Yim Pil-sung

Starring: Ryoo Seung-bum, Kim Kang-woo, Song Sae-byeok

Year: 2012

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: South Korea


London 2012

Search database: