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K-film at the BFI London Film Fest: Doomsday Book is really not worth the effort

Ryu Seung-beom with Go Joon-hee in Brave New World
Nerdy Ryu Seung-beom with the desirable Go Joon-hee in Brave New World. But what has the cow been eating?

Doomsday Book, the first of six Korean films to screen at the 56th BFI London Film Festival is a set of three short films based loosely on a science fiction theme. The two outer segments, gentle comedies directed by Im Pil-seong (임필성), sandwich a semi-serious but nevertheless meagre filling by Kim Ji-woon entitled Heavenly Creature (천상의 피조물), in which a robot achieves enlightenment in a Buddhist temple. The narrative of the Kim Ji-woon segment feels over-rushed in order to get it to fit into its time allocation – for example why the temple wanted a robot monk in the first place is not adequately explained, and the arguments for and against terminating the “defective” machine are not convincingly laid out. But the material is not really strong enough to justify a longer segment.

Brother In-myoung achieves nirvana
Brother In-myoung achieves nirvana in Heavenly Creature

Of the comedy sections, Happy Birthday (해피 버스데이) warns us that we should be careful what we order over the internet in an ever more interconnected universe, and Brave New World (멋진 신세계) is an amusing zombie flick. Both have topical references to issues such as mad cow disease, Korean current affairs programmes, internet anonymity, Koreans’ love for expensive blended whisky and Hwang Woo-suk’s clone-faking. A fun performance from Ryu Seung-beom and a couple of minutes’ screen time from Bae Doo-na add substance to these segments, but overall this compendium is not one to make a special effort to see. A pity.

Bae Doo-na emerges into a post-apocalyptic world in Happy Birthday.
Bae Doo-na emerges into a post-apocalyptic world in Happy Birthday.

Im Pil-seong (임필성) and Kim Ji-woon (김지운): Doomsday Book (인류 멸망 보고서, 2012). score-2score-2score-0score-0score-0

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