London Film Festival 2012: Doomsday Book Review

rating: 3.5

After directors Kim Jee-woon (A Tale Of Two Sisters; The Good, The Bad, The Weird) and Yim Pil-sung (Hansel and Gretel) completed two-thirds of filming for their riotous anthology film Doomsday Book in 2006, production issues left the remaining work incomplete for six years, and finally, it has arrived in sensational, ludicrously entertaining fashion. With one story concerning a zombie outbreak, one a Buddhist robot, and another an impending apocalypse, the directors have crafted a pleasantly unpretentious festival film that will nevertheless appeal to the smart cinemagoer given its satirical nature and inherent intelligence. The first segment, A Brave New World, is a playfully grim yarn, as a rotten apple becomes mixed into the cattle production line and ends up causing a massive viral epidemic as a result. Patient zero, Suk-woo (Seung-beom Ryu), makes for a hilarious protagonist, as his efforts - or rather, his failures - with women intersect with the plague, which drives people to extreme impulsivity in both amusing and heinously depraved ways. As stands for all three shorts, there is a tongue-in-cheek political undercurrent to the mayhem, yet it never undermines the story. Director Pil-sung also deserves a pat on the back for including sly references to the zombie and found footage genres. The Heavenly Creature, helmed by Jee-woon, is blessed with an irresistible concept; in the near-future, where helper robots have become the norm, one model housed in a Buddhist temple has not only become a Buddhist, but purportedly achieved enlightenment, much to the amazement of the monks living there. An engineer is consigned to see if this constitutes the product being defective, and the question stands; can he bring himself to order its destruction when it appears to have a spiritual value unparalleled in the robotic world? The schools of logic - cold and clinical against open-minded and philosophical - trace along clear lines, and Jee-woon's future appears to have become even more empirical than our own; smoking has since become illegal, the world's callous sense making the fight between the two schools seem even more contentious. Again, humour abounds - mainly from observing the engineer's sheer incredulity at what is happening - combined with exceptional practical and computer-generated robot effects, making this easily the most interesting of the three shorts. It's hardly the most original idea, but the execution is what makes it feel so dead-on; through all of its heady consideration, its resolve - coupled with a tickling twist - feels all-too telling. The final short, Happy Birthday, a collaboration between the two directors, is a wonderfully barmy treat on which to end things; when a child breaks her father's special, magic 8-Ball, her throwing it away and ordering a replacement appears to bring about the end of the world by way of a giant 8-Ball-shaped meteorite that is heading towards Earth. The concept might sound a little familiar - minus the 8-Ball - but as one can imagine, directors this unique aren't about to fall at the last hurdle, and this short is nothing if not original. Piercing depictions of end-of-the-world senselessness garner plenty of laughs, alongside a premise which simply becomes more demented the further it progresses. The best laughs late in the day stem from the refusal of the girl's family to believe her outlandish story, though inevitably, they do see the light one way or another... What impresses most is the consistent, clear tone and vision throughout; the comedy never up-ends the thoughtful elements, nor the other way around. Balance is key, and as such, Doomsday Book is well worth the long wait.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.