Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Directors: Kim Jee-woon and Yim Pil-Sung
Stars:: Ryu Seung-beom, Kim Kang-woo, Song Sae-byuk
Running time: 113 minutes
It's rare for a genre anthology movie to be a rousing success, through and through. For every Creepshow or Asylum, there are about five or six films on par with Creepshow 2, which featured one excellent tale ("The Raft") and two snoozers. And now that there's a resurgence of the omnibus format within the horror community, with recent winners like sickly perverted Little Deaths and the found-footage subversion V/H/S, folks raised on the works of Amicus and Tales from the Crypt are more vulnerable than ever before to the lamest sides of the anthology sub-genre. Unfortunately, the South Korean three-parter Doomsday Book falls on the negative side of the multi-segment spectrum.
In theory, Doomsday Book sounds perfectly clever and full of potential: Via three tonally different tales, directors Kim Jee-woon (the excellent A Tale of Two Sisters and the equally superb I Saw the Devil) and Yim Pul-Sung present a trio of end-of-the-world scenarios, each of which veers toward the fantastical. But the first segment, Pil-Sung's zombie comedy "A Brave New World," wastes no time in signaling the frustrating unevenness that's to come. More concerned with silly jokes that never fully connect, Pil-Sung's look at how a mad-cow-styled disease turns everyone into lumbering ghouls plays like a poor man's Shaun of the Dead, offering nothing new to the walking dead canon and reaching its apex early on with an admittedly horrific shot of a bovine victim meeting the bad end of axe.
The second segment, Jee-woon's somber, meditative sci-fi entry "Heavenly Creatures," picks things up and holds up as Doomsday Book's highpoint. Taking cues from Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, Jee-woon examines the fear-inducing idea that one day, without anyone being able to stop them, robots or some other byproduct of modern technology could possibly take over control of everything. Here, the bot in question is In-myung, a calculating power-monger who speaks with the calmness of 2001: A Space Odyssey's Hal 9000 and amasses a steadily growing Buddhist following. A complete 180 from "A Brave New World," both in terms of stylistic approach and overall quality, "Heavenly Creatures" is worthy of serious attention. Frankly, it deserves to be in a better movie.
That point is driven home by its proceeding segment, "Happy Birthday," Doomsday Book's closing story co-directed by Pil-Sung and Jee-woon, though it's clearly more the former's doing. The premise is endearingly wacky: Hoping to obtain a new Magic 8-Ball, a little girl accidentally logs onto an alien website and commands a meteorite to head on a fatal collision course toward Earth. Just as much of a comedy as "A Brave New World," "Happy Birthday" is, thankfully, actually funny in spots, particularly when a pair of scared-to-death newscasters appear.
Altogether overlong, mostly unfunny when it tries to be hilarious, and marked by one first-rate segment sandwiched in between a couple of misfires, Doomsday Bookis a noble effort to diversify the anthology style that, despite its bloated length, is too lightweight for its own good. Which is a shame, since Jee-woon's "Heavenly Creatures" hints at the kind of strong product that could've been made if the filmmakers opted for straight-faced commentary over goofy diversions.
Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)