Natural City

Natural City


Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

2080: there's been an apocalypse of one sort or another and cyborgs have taken over most of the menial functions in the depopulated, disease-ravaged society. They have a three-year warranty - er, lifespan - and an occasional tendency to malfunction and go renegade when their time is up.

When news arrives that four cyborgs have infiltrated Mecaline City's DNA repository, the Blade Runners - er, Military Police - are dispatched by governing corporation Neucom to take care of the matter, disrupting the cyborg AIs by the time-honoured Night Of The Living Dead method of shooting them in the head. Some things never change...

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Problem is that, with the exception of the two team leaders, Noma (Yoon Chan) and R (Yoo ji-tae), the MP's really aren't all that good - think Aliens' colonial marines - being way outclassed by their opponents, each of whom is reckoned to be four times stronger, faster and deadlier.

Worse, R really doesn't have his mind on the job. His own cyborg Ria (Seo Rin), a "basic pleasure model" pole dancer, with whom he has fallen in love, is up for expiration, a situation that has led him into contacting Dr Giro, a shifty type who can fix anything if the price is right.

The cyborgs make short work of the MPs, pretty much wiping out R's squad with some enough-already, Matrix-esque moves. R finds himself face-to-face with the cyborg leader, Cyper (Jung doo-hong) - presumaby Cypher, but for a mistake in the subtitling - but fails to take him out and receives a bullet in the head - er, hand - for his troubles.

As Noma tries to figure out what the replicants - er, cyborgs - were after at the DNA plant and what the problem is with his depressed and now under-investigation second-in-command, R is sent after a young waif named Cyon (Lee jae-eun) by Dr Giro. Then - wouldn't you know - it transpires that she's the one the renegade cyborgs are after as well, because by some strange quirk her genetic material is compatible with their AI units, letting them live on in her body...

This is another one of those Korean films that you cannot but have mixed feelings about. It's great that filmmakers, such as Min byung-chun, have the confidence to make high-concept, big-budget action movies in the Hollywood mode, but tragic if this is coming at the cost of discouraging the development of a more genuinely national cinema of the sort epitomised by gems like Jeong jae-eun's Take Care Of My Cat.

And this is where the easy comparison of Korea now to Hong Kong two decades ago falls down: whereas the likes of John Woo and Tsui Hark innovated by bringing foreign filmic influences to bear on indigenous genres, too often all their Korean counterparts seem capable of doing is rip off Jerry Bruckheimer things-exploding-isms.

So, if you want a good-looking, moderately distracting Korean riff on Blade Runner, with nods to Robocop, Dark City, Akira and just about every other noteworthy science-fiction film post-Star Wars, you know where to look.

But if a coherent plot, well-rounded characters and meaningful discussions of society, politics and the human condition - and here we might note that the notion of using Korea's distinctive political situation as token starting point, as seen in Kang je-gyu's Shiri and Jeong yun-su's Yesterday is conspicuously absent, while the more romantic, character-driven drama elements largely backfire and just slow things down - are important to you continue your search elsewhere.

Reviewed on: 16 Aug 2004
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Futuristic action-packed, robot-serviced, Blade Runner-esque thriller from South Korea.
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Director: Min byung-chun

Writer: Min Byung-chun

Starring: Yoo ji-tae, Lee jae-eun, Seo Rin, Yoon Chan, Jung eun-pyo, Jung doo-hong, Ko ju-hye

Year: 2003

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


EIFF 2004

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