Time for yet another review… and with the help of our fellow Asian movie blogging friend Stephen, aka Elpeevio, of “Things Fall Apart”, this time out we’re taking a look at Korea’s 2012 homage to the big budget disaster film “The Tower”.
I have to say, I was both excited and nervous about this one. I know Koreans have the technical savvy to pull off large scale disaster movies, as despite some faults, I really enjoyed “Haeundae”. But the real nervousness came from the disappointment which was the Director’s previous effort “Sector 7”.
Quick synopsis time! So here goes.. “On Christmas Eve, at the luxurious newly built “Tower Sky” twin skyscrapers in central Seoul, residents and staff members busy themselves with preparation for the Christmas gala party to celebrate the building’s opening .Despite warnings of dangerous winds,helicopters are hired to circle and spray the building with man made snow during the Christmas party. The wealthy residents gathered for the event are amazed by the spectacle, but soon their amazement turns into terror as a helicopter loses control and crashes into the building, exploding into an inferno that sets off a chain off events threatening not just the lives of all the residents, but all the city around them.”
Another Korean movie? Stephen and I most certainly have a theme going don’t we… 😉 Not really certain why, but I’m thinking it’s just that the Koreans really know how to make some of the cream of the crop of Asian cinema… and if we’re going to do it “tag team” style, we might as well have the best movies around to watch and review. 🙂
Yeah, have to agree in terms of the technical side of things, nothing beats the Koreans. But next time, let us go even more out of my comfort zone. I like the idea of Bollywood, I might even put up with some singing and dancing!
Anyway…. looks like we’ll have plenty of big screen action and some serious CGI eye-candy on hand to try to wow us both. Think you might like to watch it too? Then just “Read On” and let us give you our opinions on the big-budget thrills and excitement to be had… 😉
When I though to ask Stephen this time out to share another review, this one had just popped onto my radar…. and given that he actually has far broader film tastes than a certain ghost story obsessed Catgirl you might know, I thought this might be the perfect choice for us. I was born in the early 70’s, just as the big “disaster movie” craze got started and missed seeing them at the cinema on the big screen… but I did manage to catch all those on TV in the 80’s when they finally made their way to cable TV. The “Airport” franchise… “Earthquake”… “The Poseidon Adventure”… and of course, probably the best of them all… 1974’s “The Towering Inferno”. Like any film genre, they always followed a certain formula, sticking to it without fail. You take a few big stars… get them to lead a huge cast of characters, all split up into individual story-lines, and then trap the whole kit and caboodle of them in the middle of the most gosh awful disaster you can think of. If you do it right, the audience gets caught up in the resulting mayhem, cheering for their favorites to somehow make it through the terrible experiences alive while also getting that guilty thrill of seeing all the story’s biggest a**holes get their well deserved comeuppance. Yep. I watched them all… and yes… enjoyed the cinematic spectacle of practical and special effects with budgets that could have sent a man to the Moon. They just plain worked, movie-wise.
Definitely on the same page. They somewhat write themselves, but as a cinema spectacle? Little can beat them.
So…. all these years later, can that same simple formula work for the Koreans? Let’s find out.
As with any of these stories, there’s a big “disaster” around which everything revolves… and for the movie to actually work, that disaster has to be a doozy, the like of which turns the event itself into almost a “character” of it’s own, which if the audience can’t believe in, and on some level fear, then nothing else in the movie will work. Our catastrophe this time out? How about the very scary idea of the destruction of a modern high-rise mega skyscraper with the mind boggling capacity of nearly 6000 people? Oh yeah… that ought to do it. Especially if the event is big enough to overwhelm any ordinary emergency response possible.
So… taking it’s cue from “The Towering Inferno”, our story revolves around that very same idea… take one of those ridiculously over-sized buildings and set it on fire at the worst possible moment. That gives the filmmakers the chance to concentrate the story around two main groups of protagonists… firstly Lee Dae-ho (played by Kim Sang-kyung) a widowed single father and Maintenance & Operations manager of the 120 story “Tower Sky” complex. He’s that honest hard working guy with a cute lil’ daughter Ha-na (played by Jo Min-ah) that you know will become our main hero from the minute he is introduced. He’s got a secret crush on the building’s pretty Manager of Culinary Operations Seo Yoon-hee (played by Son Ye-jin) and of course that gives us the chance for our film’s romantic angle, just to sew up all the expected clichés. To balance out that, we also get the character of Captain Kang Young-ki (played by Sol Kyung-gu) heroic veteran firefighter and the men under his command. So far, nothing really novel or unexpected… and like I said… that’s all according to the genre playbook for this kind of film.
I supposes that’s the most disappointing thing about “The Tower”. Seen as a homage to the earlier films in it’s genre, it’s a good success overall, getting most things right and sticking to that tried and true playbook, but this wee Catgirl thinks it could have been so much more if it had been willing to just take a couple of chances and break out from that formula at times. There are some odd quirks…. strangely enough for a grim story like this, “The Tower” is sprinkled throughout with a definite desire to mix in some weirdly comedic moments now and again for no apparent reason, particularly involving one of the sub-plots about a group of evangelical Christians trapped in the building. I know Asian cinema likes to mix it up as far as overall tone goes, but these bits felt oddly wrong and out of place to me for the most part. They certainly confused my sweetie at times as the film would go from a sequence of deadly serious drama to one of these moments without warning and then lurch back to the horrible death and destruction stuff.
It really is the classic aspect of Asian Cinema that usually turns off those I try and get interested. Humour can be cultural, and usually I find us Westerners can be put off by the odd placement, or the obsession with toilet humour, or most often references that simply don’t work. Here I wasn’t sure if it was just lampooning these people, or there was a bigger point being made. Whatever, it really caused big problems with the threat and tension.
So then…. Who lives and who dies? Well… I’m not going to spill the beans, but remember… I did say this one sticks pretty close to the formula so you should have some idea without me spoiling things story-wise. Got to give you some reason to actually watch it you know…. 😉
Given all that, I’m torn about my rating for this one. I honestly can’t say it’s a bad film. It’s a predictable one…. it’s without any real surprises plot-wise… but it’s also competently acted and technologically excellent in it’s stunt work, effects filming, and overall cinematography. It’s a mediocre success…. But…. my heart tells me it’s actually supposed to be like that. I can say I enjoyed it as an evening’s movie entertainment the way eating your favorite fast food can be satisfying without really being the best meal you’ve ever eaten. Hey…. Carolyn liked it, subtitles and all, mostly because the whole thing was as familiar and basically visceral on a level that transcends language or culture. Basically, you want to see characters you like beat the odds and live happily ever after and you want to see characters you hate die like the cockroaches they are. It ain’t noble… but it’s human. 😉
I think we differ here. I thought that whilst it was technically great, the fact that I simply did not care about a single character was simply unforgivable. The plot holes and the strange pacing I can forgive. But the fact I can hardly remember who lived or died concerns me. I like a bit of melodrama, and whilst this film certainly decided to dollop it on the plate right at the end, it was not only too little too late, but it utterly unbalanced the film. I also really hated the fact that that central romance is never given much time. The big star on display here is Son Ye-jin, and whilst she is an actress that can utterly polarize my opinion of her, it seemed that her character was given especially short shrift. And if you saw the deleted scenes? You know that there is a whole other arc.
I so want to see those now that you’ve mentioned them… especially since I actually did like the character of Seo Yoon-hee. I know… I know…. it’s probably mostly just my secret thrill at having her be so close to the job I actually have that makes me empathize so much with her, but it honestly isn’t often that we kitchen managers get to be the main romantic heroines in film these days…. Hehehehe!!
So… I wish I could rate it higher, but I can only give it 3 “Meows” out of 5 for being the tastiest piece of movie junk food I’ve shared with Carolyn in a while. I’m thinking most people would enjoy it…. maybe not call it their greatest movie experience ever, but probably not hate it either. I suppose that’s a good thing all in all.
I would be harsher, but I do agree as a potential piece of leave you brain at home junk, it is certainly OK. Just feels to me that there was an awful lot of money thrown at it, and especially as it was a Korean film, it failed at a basic level for me. Writing this now, something else bothered me… Other than one character whose mother was in the blaze, we never really got to see the reactions of those involved with the people trapped did we? Lots of people bothered about keeping the building aloft, but no real reaction from the more human side.
Hmmmm? You are right about that… they did do that whole “pictures of the missing on a wall” bit, but yeah, much of the “outsider” reaction was missing. One I noticed was the absence of Captain Kang’s wife till the very end. I would have expected her to show up at the command post during the struggle waiting for her husband to either make it out or not. A missed chance for some additional drama if you ask me.
I saw this one on the recent Malay Region 3 release, which while lacking all the bells and whistles of the official Korean DVD certainly was more budget friendly at around 8$ US. It was widescreen, NTSC formatted and came with what appeared to be the same excellent English subtitles I experience with those Korean releases. The transfer image was clear, if a tad bit dark at times but didn’t detract from our viewing pleasure one bit. If the 29-35$ US price tag of the Korean release proves more than your wallet can stand, this version would certainly do the trick I’m thinking, for anyone wanting a peek on the cheap. 😉
I actually managed to cancel my expensive Korean version, as for some reason they did a UK release. It is an odd choice to be distributed here (They did the same for “Haeundae”), but for £8 I got a nice print of the film as well as some deleted scenes (which actually improve the movie) and a couple of “making of” shorts.
I was also surprised at how quickly this one has gotten DVD release just about everywhere. There’s a HK disc and BluRay, the US version is due out the beginning of next month… and I suspect Europe will see it fairly soon as well. At least that means it’s an easily accessable film for those tempted to catch it, always a good thing.
Hmmmm? I guess that sums things up this time out, and not to worry… I’m thinking if you enjoyed our little “Dual Review”, o’ Gentle Visitors, there’s a darn good chance Stephen and I will do it again, and who know? Maybe next time out we’ll find something waaaay outside both our usual viewing fare (Hey… It could happen, Hehehe!!)…. Till then… extinguish all cigarettes… check your sprinklers… and “Meow, meow for now!!”
Better than a chance. It will happen! Though next time Korea is banned, and maybe, just maybe I can be less of a grinch about the chosen spectacle! I don’t have a sign off phrase, so, well “See ya!”
Oooohhhh!! Ah yes… and before you go… don’t forget to take a peek at Stephen’s own review for this one over at his own blog… HERE!! 😉
Trailer…. Oh yeah… don’t worry, your Favorite Catgirl’s got that all sorted out. 😉