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December 07, 2012

Doomsday Book

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In lyoo myeol mang bo go seo
Yim Pil-sung and Kim Jee-woon - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

There is a bit more optimism here than the English language title would indicate. Even the loosely translated title, "The Fall of Humanity" isn't quite right either, although each of the three stories here can be described in one degree or another as dystopian fables. The first and third sections are by Yim Pil-sung with the center section by Kim Jee-woon.

Yim should be known better. His Hansel and Gretel is a dark fantasy that suggests a horror movie begun by Wes Anderson, with the child's eye view of the world, morphing into a nightmare by David Lynch. Kim is the better known filmmaker here with I Saw the Devil and The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Surprisingly, Kim's film is the most optimistic in this trilogy, while Yim has two apocalyptic visions.

"A Brave New World" manages to cram a story about pandemics, mad cow disease, zombies, and a parody of Adam and Eve all in less than forty minutes. As in the Bible, all it takes is an apple, in this case one very bad apple. As if to illustrate the old adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the culprit here is the recycling of food. This is the kind of story that may convert a few meat eaters into vegetarians.

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Kim's "A Heaven Creature" is provides food for thought. The film takes place in a future with advanced robotics, taking on human tasks, or with the existence of artificial animals as pets. Going beyond the standard examinations of artificial intelligence, this is a story about a robot assigned to work at a Buddhist monastery. The robot is considered by the chief monk to have achieved enlightenment. The company the produces the robot considers the robot defective, to be destroyed as a threat to humanity. And as a Buddhist, I have participated in discussions about how Buddhism is defined and what it means to say that Buddhism exists in all living things, as well as the concept of how one expresses one's enlightenment. Kim's story could also be understood to be a reworking of some of the basic themes about robots established by author Karel Capek. As some of the ideas about robots have been interpreted as having their origins in the Jewish concept of the Golem, Kim's setting would reflect an appropriate, and not unrelated, cultural shift. For those simply concerned with a story, without getting too deep into philosophical concerns, "A Heavenly Creature" has a nice twist ending.

Yim closes out the trilogy with "Birthday", about a young girl who orders a special 8-ball for her father from a mysterious website. As it turns out, this is no ordinary pool ball, but an asteroid hurtling towards earth. One of Yim's targets here, as in "A Brave New World" is television news, as journalists set aside any needed public information to air their personal grievances. There are also some grim laughs to be had at the sight of a commercial for tiny, personal survival shelters, each about the size of a bathtub, with Yim including another, ahem, gag, about recycling. The young girl and her family hide in a bomb shelter, waiting for the world to end. Yim's goofy story actually has a happy ending of sorts, plus the bonus of a brief appearance by Bae Doona bringing additional sunshine.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 7, 2012 08:15 AM