Review: Toronto After Dark Film Festival – Doomsday Book


From talented South Korean directors, Jee-Woon Kim and Pil-Sung Yim, Doomsday Book is an entertaining and enlightening apocalyptic –themed anthology of three shorts, A Brave New World, The Heavenly Creature, and Happy Birthday.  If you are looking for an all-in-one Armageddon flm, then Doomsday Book is it; a well-crafted sci-fi, with a dash of horror, anthology film that includes zombies, robots, and a massive meteor.  Pil-Sung Yim bookends the anthology with two comedic tales of Armageddon; with Happy Birthday (which was co-directed by Kim) being slightly more amusing with its quirky story, brash humour, and comical news cast.  While Jee-woon Kim’s The Heavenly Creature has a completely different tone and is more philosophical about the end of mankind. It feels completely out of place with the prevailing theme of the film which thankfully then is sandwiched between the two genre comedies.

A Brave New World centers on a military lab researcher, dorky Suk-woo (Seung-beom Ryu) who oddly enough becomes patient zero after eating a virus-infected piece of beef liver.  He then passes the zombie plague to the hot girl he’s dating, Yoo-min (Jun-hee Ko), who strangely enjoys taking pictures on her camera phone to capture all life’s memories, both good and bad. A Brave New World had a good start with light, comedic moments and potential for a decent romantic-comedy-sci-fi-horror, but then the chapter flatlines as the less-than-frightening zombies take over the city while news coverage of the outbreak dominants the film, and it is only temporarily resuscitated by a tiny satire on politics and a comedic scene with the return of Suk-woo’s parents from their 1-week vacation. A Brave New World is a rather average zombie apocalypse movie but with some biblical undertones, and actually the scariest part of the short happens in the first few minutes with the horrendous and unexpected slaughter of a cow.

With The Heavenly Creature, Kim’s created a future where robots are an integral part of life and even the monastery owns one to help handle the finances. A technician, Do-wan Park (Kang-woo Kim) is called in to examine the robot not because it is ‘defective’ per se but rather because this robot’s artificial intelligence has gained enlightenment and to the wonder of the monks, may in fact be Buddha. This chapter is intriguing and despite not fitting in with the tone of the others, it is by far the strongest of the three shorts in terms of its story, acting, visual style, and dialogue that probes a lot of philosophical questions in long speeches and conversations, which commands the latter half of the short (being a subtitled film, hope you are a fast reader!). The Buddhist robot may resemble that of the anthropomorphic robots from I, Robot but this one is so much more cooler-looking in design and it is simply entrancing to stare at; especially when the robot is in meditation and prayer. The premise that the fall of mankind will be at the hands of technology and robots is not a new theme in film, “Man has been a slave to material things since the dawn of civilization.” Yet Kim’s thought-provoking sci-fi version is alluring because it is a well-executed story.

The best way to end the world has to be with a massive meteor and a countdown clock. It’s nice knowing how much time you have left in this world, so you can go build a bombshelter if time permitted and of course spend the last few hours with your loved ones, even better is spending your birthday on the day of Armageddon. The last chapter of Doomsday Book is a team effort from Kim and Yim, Happy Birthday is hilariously entertaining, even if the plot is a little outlandish. The short starts off with a young girl, Min-seo (Ji-hee Jin ), in her uncle’s room, on the internet trying to find a replica of her dad’s damaged pool 8-ball and then buying it with her mom’s stolen credit card. Fast forward 2 years and Min-seo is forced into an underground bomb shelter with her mom, dad, and nerdy uncle, who helped rig up the electricity that is powered by exercise equipment. While the clock is ticking away, the adults are preparing for doomsday by stocking up the place while young Min-seo is watching the newscast; the best laughs in this short are provided by the anchor team and a hilarious infomercial. The clock does hit 0:00:00 and the entire planet is wiped out and it should have ended then and there but instead the directors drag out the story with adding 10 years.

Doomsday Book is an enjoyable mélange a trios anthology film by talented directors; there has to be an apocalyptic story here and there that will no doubt be appealing to some extent.  So what do you say? Death by ….

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About the Author

Aline Le

Aline has probably spent more than half her life at the theatres devouring movies, white cheddar-flavoured popcorn, and strawberry-peach Yogen Früz. Some of her favourite movies include C.R.A.Z.Y., The Believer, and Grave of the Fireflies.

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