With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Monday, July 01, 2013

ACF 1944: Korean hit disaster film THE TOWER available tomorrow

THE TOWER, director KIM Ji-hoon's blockbuster hit that scored the second best opening in Korean Cinema history this past December, becomes available
tomorrow, Tuesday, July 2nd, as a single disc Region 1 DVD from CJ Entertainment.

LEE Dae Ho (KIM Sang-kyung) and his daughter Ha-na (Mina Cho) wake up on what turns out to be a very eventful day

Though I never saw THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974), I know enough about it to be confident in saying that THE TOWER is a variation on that film, with an element of the 9-11 attacks on the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center thrown in. Here, however, the conflagration is not the result of faulty wiring or a terrorist attack, but rather due to a design flaw by, and the hubris and connections of, the chairman of Tower Sky. This 108 story skyscraper consists of twin towers, one with a River View and the other with a City View, that are conjoined by a Sky Bridge at level 70, roughly 2/3rds of way to the top of the buildings. Tower Sky is the most luxurious apartment complex in Korea, with shops, restaurants and all the other amenities needed to satisfy the extremely wealthy people who live there.

Ha-na  and SEO Yoon-hee (actress SON Ye-jin)

The film has three primary characters. LEE Dae-ho (KIM Sang-kyung) is Tower Sky’s conscientious facility manager, the widowed father of a precocious young daughter, Ha-na. Though he has difficulty expressing them, he has strong feelings for SEO Yoon-hee (SON Ye-jin), the facility’s restaurant manager, who has similar feelings for him. When tragedy strikes during Christmas Eve festivities, Dae-ho fights his way to rejoin Yoon-hee and Ha-na in order to save them. Also joining the rescue efforts is KANG Young-kee (SUL Kyung-gu), an experienced firefighter from the Yeoudio Fire Station. Young-kee was to have had the night off to be with his wife, but he can’t neglect the call of duty.

Residents react to the initial disaster

The disaster film genre calls for a sizeable cast consisting of a wide variety of people, and THE TOWER fulfills that requirement most admirably. There’s the fire fighter sergeant, the Fire Chief, and the Fire Commissioner; a kitchen worker and the receptionist he’s in love with; two elderly residents who are just beginning a relationship in their golden years; a devout Christian who has won a lottery contest; a politician and his arrogant wife; and so forth.

While it’s a given that certain particular characters must survive, the film did a terrific job confounding this viewer’s expectations. Let’s just say that some “good” people make it, some don’t, and the same is true for “bad” characters. The great thing is that with a few strokes, director KIM fleshes out these supporting roles so well that what happens to them, for good or for ill and regardless of their personal character, matters. I found myself so glad when “good” people made it and “bad” ones didn’t, and saddened when the opposite occurred.

Firefighter KANG Young-kee (actor SUL Kyung-gu)

The DVD offers both Korean language soundtracks with English subtitles as well as English dubbed soundtracks. Each language version is available as 5.1 or 2.0. There are two terrific featurettes: one is on Lighting and Cinematography, the other on Production Design.

Also included are some deleted scenes, an "extra" that I normally don't find very interesting. Here, however, they were often well work watching, since in many of them the green screens areas used in the "live" shooting (that is, before CGI was added to complete the scene) were evident. This gave me a real insight into what it's like to film scenes that rely heavily on CGI to make them complete. And The Tower does use a lot of CGI: of the roughly 3000 scenes in the film, approximately 1700 used CGI in full or in part. Fortunately the CGI is very convincing, both well envisioned and well executed.

The final special feature consists of a few trailers of other films offered on DVD from CJ Entertainment. Personally, I would have liked at least a trailer or teaser for The Tower itself, but none is included.

The Tower is terrific entertainment, an action-packed drama packed with heartfelt human emotion.

ACF Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; highly recommended.

[Note: This DVD review is based in part on my article about the North American theatrical release of The Tower, which appeared on January 11, 2013, at 24Framespersecond.]