Anthologies can sometimes be tricky endeavors. Each story needs to be entertaining yet unique enough to necessitate being broken up into smaller stories while still maintaining a solid theme throughout. Inevitably there are stronger and weaker entries in each one. “Doomsday Book” is a recent Korean anthology created by Pil-Sung Yim and Jee-woon Kim. There are three distinct stories told in the film varying greatly in plot, style and finality. It is apocalyptic in nature but not all in the same ways. With the supposed Mayan end-of-the-world “prophecy” only a few days away, this is an appropriate moment for a review.
The first story, “Brave New World” is a zombie tale set in metropolitan Korea. In the cannon of zombie outbreaks the genesis of them has been man-made biological weapons, alien, viral etc etc. This particular outbreak stems from rotten food thrown in the trash. It’s a novel idea trying to break out of the usual cliches. As most zombie movies use the outbreak as the catalyst to show some zombie carnage, this shows the outbreak itself in stages. A young man is left home alone to do some chores while his parents and sister go away on vacation. One of the more disgusting chores is to dispose of some garbage in the garage that happens to be a rancid combination of old food and other filthy objects. He then meets a cute girl for a date. After a segment of cross cutting between the date and how the man’s garbage eventually made its way to being a food source for cows, the cows being slaughtered and the meat be sold to restaurants, we see him eat it and start the infection. The story has a good mix of humor and dramatic weight. It does not take itself too seriously but still has moments that carry some dramatic weight. There are humorous moments involving a news broadcast which make for a good commentary on what is really to blame for certain situations. One person blames the zombie outbreak on something political that happened years ago. There is no basis for it, he just wanted to bash the political party. Anyone that has ever read the comments section of any article on the internet should be able to relate to this. Inevitable politics is brought up with no basis. There is a lot of blood but it’s not overly gory.
“Heavenly Creature” takes place in the near future. A technician is sent to fix a possibly defective robot that is living in a monastery in Seoul. The monks believe it has achieved enlightenment while the company that made it believes it may be dangerous to humans. This is my personal favorite of the three stories. It sets aside the humor for the most part in favor of existential and philosophical ponderings. There are many moments of terrific dialogue which leads to debates between several characters in which both sides make good points. Human’s natural inclinations lead us to side with more sympathetic characters. This seemingly is a story about good vs evil however there seems to be no true evil side. Both sides make solid points. It’s hard to tell what is right and wrong. Only one’s beliefs and convictions will help make a personal decision. Also interesting to note that even though the body count in this story is the lowest of the three it still feels like the most nihilistic.
“Happy Birthday” is the most surreal of the three stories. It involves ordering an billiard ball over the internet and it being delivered as a huge “meteorite” crashing towards the earth. It sounds absurd but it is handled rather deftly by the directors. Even though the story is absurd, there still is some nice emotional weight to it. At its core, it’s about the family unit and the fact that in the midst of impending doom, that at least have each other. There are some nice laugh out loud moments involving a news broadcast and a home shopping network selling personal survival life pods that seem to be malfunctioning while on the air. Not many questions are answered but in this case, it’s, as they say, more about the journey than the destination.
The camerawork is beautiful throughout all three stories. “Brave New World” has some great moments of widescreen chaos, “Heavenly Creature takes a slightly elevated approach, almost like your looking down upon everything from above, and “Happy Birthday” excels at showing both subtle nuances like a couple holding hands and a massive view of Earth from space. Does the anthology work as a whole? Not perfectly. There is enough of a disconnect between each story that there seems to be no all encompassing theme. There are no bookends tying everything together. The first and third stories, even though having moments of dramatic tension, are ultimately humorous. While the middle story is the anchor that gives the whole production it’s weight. “Heavenly Creature” has enough gusto to be made into it’s own feature length movie as it definitely left me wanting more, in a good way. That is not to say the other two are not good, they are but is a vastly different manner. In the end, this is an interesting trifecta of stories that should be at least seen once for the experience alone.
“Doomsday Book” is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio using a 1080p AVC-encode. There are some moments of graininess but overall it is an incredibly detailed picture throughout. Each story is natural without any heavy post processing. Colors pop off the screen and there is a terrific amount of detail in every texture. There are some darker moments, especially near the end where the image gets a little muddy but it is not a serious issue.
Given a Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, there is a wide spectrum of sound used in this film. Ranging from quiet moments in hallways where all you hear is the subtle hum of fluorescent light to a bass filled rumbling of a gigantic 8 ball careening towards earth. The low end bass really helps accentuate the the end of the world scenario in the third story perfectly. Dialogue is crystal clear as well are the many types of music used in each story. All of it is handled terrifically.
Unfortunately there is only a trailer for the film in HD. It would have been nice to have a couple of features talking about the ideas that went into the making of the production. This goes especially for “Heavenly Creature” where there is a large amount of philosophy involved. Also, it would have been interesting to hear some technical insight into how In-Myung (the robot) was created.
Well Go USA’s “Doomsday Book” is a mostly successful collection of three different types of apocalyptic scenarios which vary greatly in outcomes and in style. Each one is entertaining in its own right and will find different audiences depending on people’s tastes. It would have been nice to have a connection between the stories to add to the experience; however it is not a serious detriment to the overall experience. There are no extras save for a lone trailer but with strong audio and video this comes recommended, especially to sci-fi fans looking for a unique look regarding the end of the world.