The end of the world. I have never figured out why mankind has been so obsessed with the thought. What is it in our make up that causes people to constantly come up with new and wild scenerios about how it will occur? Whether it be the Mayan calendar, giant asteroids hurtling towards us at unimaginable speed or a super virus that will wipe off all life on the planet, there’s always some new and exciting way that people imagine that the world will end. That’s why it’s not surprising to see a film like Doomsday Book, as well as all the others that have come before it, and will come long after, that feed these fatalistic fears, while at the same time, oddly enough, entertaining us with new thoughts of how things might end.
Doomsday Book is an anthology film, which includes three stories from three different directors. The first story in the film is called A Brave New World, and shows us how the zombie apocalypse begins, not with some super virus created for biological warfare or through the improper storage of nuclear or chemical waste, but rather through our own human laziness and the inability to clean out own houses. See, Seok-woo works in a military lab, but he’s home on leave to take care of his parent’s apartment while they go off on vacation. His mom, rather than being happy to see him, almost immediately sets him to the task of cleaning the house, taking out the recycling, taking out the garbage, and cleaning this wastebasket that full of unbelievably rotten old food that it looks like it’s been through a nuclear holocaust. Well he dumps the waste basket in a food disposal bin in an alley. From there, the bin is emptied into a garbage truck. the waste is recycled, turned into cattle food, the cattle eat it, then Seok-woo, out on a blind date with Yoo-min at a barbeque restaraunt, ends up eating the infected meat along with everyone else in the restaraunt. All of it seems to have stemmed from a rotten apple that was in the waste basket he emptied, and now the initial group of zombies are killing people, thereby causing them to turn, and the whole country is going nuts. It’s a typical zombie apocalypse story with a humorous twist on how it all got started.
The seccond story, Heavenly Creature, takes place in the future. A Buddhist monastery uses robots to clean and handle other menial work so that the monks have more time to devote to achieving enlightenment. However, one robot, an RU-4 model, has become different from the others. It’s evolved, become self aware, and through its time at the monastery, has achieved enlightment and is considered by the monks to be Buddah. They call in a technican from the company that makes the robots to check him out and see what he thinks. The guy checks and finds nothing wrong, but after reporting the call to his company, they send out a team of exterminators to eliminate the errant robot because the head of the company believes that if robots are allowed to become self aware, they’re a threat to human kind. The head monk of the order (but not of this particular monastery), likewise sees it as an affront to the efforts of humans who have worked to hard to achieve enlightenment that a robot should achieve it so easily. This is a story, not so much of doomsday, but of man’s fear of it, even though what he fears most may have actually turned out to be his salvation.
The third story, Happy Birthday, is about a little girl who has a father who loves playing pool. One day, she accidentally damages his 8-ball, and in a desperate panic, she takes her mom’s credit card and orders one online, hoping to get it before her father finds out what happened to his old one, that he currently thinks has just been misplaced somewhere. She throws the old one out the window to get rid of it, and after rolling down the street for a while, it falls in a hole that seems to be some kind of a wormhole. Jump ahead a little, and we find that there’s a massive something or other headed toward the earth, 10km wide that will likely wipe out everything. Eventully we find out that it’s actually a giant 8-ball, and that the little girl somehow reached a strange website where she had ordered it from. Now it’s coming from space and is going to destroy everything. Her family owns a bomb shelter, and after fully stocking it with food, bikes that generate electricity and other necessities, they lock themselves in before the impact, only to emerge ten years later to find…, well, you’ll have to see it yourself.
As with all anthology films, you’re going to have some stories that are better than others. This film is no different. Here’s a rundown of my thoughts about each of the three…
A Brave New World:
This one, while amusing at times, was in my opinion the weakest of the three stories. The zombies look ok, but are generally typical of anything you’d likely see in any other modern zombie film, and the story itself really goes nowhere. We’re given a likeable main character, but since he’s the first to turn, there’s really nothing left after that that’s of much interest.
The story of robots becoming sentient is nothing new, although a robot that achieves enlightenment and becomes Buddah by living a Buddhist monastery is rather original. Unfortunately, the jealous and frightened reaction of the humans from outside of the monastery isn’t. This one is very nice visually, as are all the stories, but its also very wordy and full of social and metaphysical commentary. Even at the end when it appears the bad humans are going to be put in their place, there’s one little tiny burst of action and then it’s over, which was very disappointing and made little sense. The message that humans have become too dependent on technology and see it as disposable is made clear in various parts of the film, including one rather amusing part where none of the monks can tell the owner of the robot corporation the main number of the monastery without looking at their cell phones. The commentary is fine, the message is fine and the robot is really slick, but the story itself feels very slow and heavy. This was the second best story in the film however, because it actually felt like a complete story, unlike the first story which really went nowhere.
This was far and away the most entertaining of the three stories in the film. The cast in this one was just excellent, and they were all likeable and entertaining. While the story could be a little confusing at times, especially near the end, it was amusing and fun nevertheless. One aspect of the surprise ending will have you smiling, while another will have you scratching your head, and one scene in particular of the final news cast before the impact will have you seriously laughing out loud. If I were to watch this film again, and I’m sure I will, unless I was showing it to someone else as a whole, I’d just skip over the first two stories and watch this one. It’s that good.
All in all, Doomsday Book is a very entertaining anthology that is visually striking and all around entertaining. Visually the three stories feel like they fit together, and the film has a generally consistent look to it despite being three separate tales told by three different film makers, but the quality difference between the stories becomes more apparent as you go from one to the next. Think of it like a concert, with the weakest story being the opening act, the middle story being the band that’s semi-famous, and then the really famous performer closing the show. That’s really how this anthology plays out. It is however another fine example of the quality film making that has been consistently coming out of South Korea in the past decade or more, and well worth adding to your collection.
If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Well Go USA website here, and if you’d like to pick up a copy of the blu-ray or DVD for yourself, you can get them from Amazon.