Pandora (2016)


Disasters bring chaos.

(2016) Disaster (Netflix) Nam-gil Kim, Jung Jin-Young, Yeong-ae Kim, Junghi Moon, Kyeong-yeong Lee, Myung-min Kim, Shin-il Kang, Se-dong Kim, Seong-mok Yoo, Dae-myeong Kim, Joo-hyeon Kim, Gang-yoo Bae, Han-jong Kim. Directed by Jong-woo Park

 

Nuclear power has been controversial for nearly half a century; the accidents at Three Mile Island in the US, Chernobyl in the Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan have only furthered that controversy. While some countries have moved to phase out nuclear power as part of their energy production, South Korea continues to support their nuclear power program and in fact is moving to expand it.

Jae-hyuk (Nam-gil) is a technician at the Hanbyul nuclear plant near Busan. He is unenthusiastic about his employment there; his father and brother both died because of their work at the plant and he wonders if he is meant for the same fate. He lives with his mother Mrs. Seok (Yeong-ae), his sister-in-law Jung-hye (Junghi) and his nephew. He has a girlfriend, Yeon-ju (Joo-hyeon) who is pretty and encouraging but he finds it tough to get out of bed in the mornings.

Meanwhile, back in Seoul, the country’s young President Kang (Myung-min) reads a report from the Hanbyul chief engineer (Jin-young) detailing safety concerns and the company’s corner-cutting when it comes to maintenance. The idealistic President means to investigate but is thwarted by the Prime Minister (Kyeong-yeong) who is in the pocket of the corporation that runs Hanbyul.

Things are about to come to a head however; a 6.1 earthquake rocks the village and the gaskets on the coolant pipes spring some terrifying leaks. The maintenance deficiencies come to roost as the plant comes closer and closer to a major meltdown. With the cowardly management backed by the sniveling Prime Minister try to cover things up and refuse to allow the Chief Engineer to implement the measures he needs because they don’t want anyone to know what they’ve been up to. Finally, when all seems lost the technicians of Hanbyul will face an impossible choice.

Disaster films are all the rage these days in Korea and Jong-woo Park has a good one under his belt (Deranged) and this one did some major box office damage in December of last year. While most of the actors will be unfamiliar to Americans in general (unless they happen to be fans of Korean cinema) this is definitely an all-star line-up in Korea. Given the impeachment proceedings going on against the South Korean president and the extraordinary mishandling of the Sewon Ferry disaster by his government, it’s no wonder Koreans are flocking to these sorts of movies.

The movie is a mixture of disaster action and political/corporate intrigue and Park melds them seamlessly, with a slight edge going to the intrigue portions. Not that the action sequences are any slouch; some of the best effects houses in South Korea were utilized to make the nuclear plant set realistic (as no Korean power plants would allow filming in or near their facilities) and the damage is realistically done.

Also realistic is the reaction of the town populace which is mostly panic and chaos with a few notable exceptions. Nam-gil makes a decent hero and while his last scene is stretched out to near ludicrous length, his performance is nonetheless heartfelt. American audiences may have issues with the dialogue which is nearly all shouted as is traditional in Asian films. There is also an extraordinary amount of puking going on which I suppose you’d expect in a movie which depicts radiation poisoning to the levels you would imagine to be a given with a radiation leak of this magnitude.

The comic relief may be a bit too broad for American tastes and might feel inappropriate given the gravity of the subject. Still, I think American audiences who are willing to forgive that sort of thing will find this extremely entertaining and while the specific political references may go shooting over our heads, we can certainly relate to the collusion between politicians and corporate weasels to screw over the environment and the people living in it for the sake of profit. That sort of thing is sadly quite universal.

REASONS TO GO: The movie succeeds on a technical level. The general panic is accurately depicted.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is a bit over-wrought in places. The comic relief might be a bit too broad for American tastes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of disaster violence, some gruesome images, a bit of mild profanity, more puke than you can shake a stick at and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first Korean film to be pre-sold to Netflix.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/28/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The China Syndrome
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: David Lynch: The Art Life

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District 13: Ultimatum (Banlieue 13 – Ultimatum)


Hair or no hair? Which is more badass? I can't decide!

Hair or no hair? Which is more badass? I can’t decide!

(2009) Action (Magnet) David Belle, Cyril Rafaelli, Philippe Torreton, Daniel Duval, Elodie Yung, MC Jean Gab’1, James Deano, Laouni Mouhid (La Fouine), Febrice Feltzinger, Pierre-Marie Mosconi, Johnny Amaro, Pascal D’Amato, Guy Amram. Directed by Patrick Alessandrin

Justice doesn’t come easy. It isn’t just handed to you. It must be fought for, and everything put up in risk for. Sometimes it takes time; sometimes it doesn’t come at all. But it won’t come without a fight.

The slums of Paris have become a war zone with five different gangs vying for ultimate power after the fall of a powerful gang lord. An indifferent government has essentially pulled the police out of District 13 after the events of District B13 and promises to improve things in the embattled district have fallen by the wayside with a change of administration.

Leito (Belle), an agile traceur (which is literally a practitioner of parkour) has become disillusioned with the broken promises and seeks to be a one-man agent provocateur, blowing up walls and leading cops and gangs on a merry chase in the streets of the district.

Capt. Damien Tomaso (Rafaelli) has taken down a drug lord all by his lonesome, using his martial arts skills to save an invaluable Picasso painting in the process. He goes home to his girlfriend only to wake up to an arrest warrant. Puzzled, he allows the DISS officers to take him to prison but being Tomaso he puts in a call to his friend Leito first.

Leito in the meantime has gotten hold of some damming video that shows officers of the DISS gunning down French police officers and leaving their bullet-riddled cars in District 13 for the gangs to be blamed. Walter Gassman (Duval), head of the DISS, we discover is in bed with Harriburton, an American multinational that is looking to raze District 13 and building luxury condos.

The weak-willed French president (Torreton) is inclined to give the order to evacuate the district and send in the bombs, but Leito and Tomaso have other plans. They’ll fight their way through gangs, corrupt cops and an uncaring French bureaucracy to get the President’s ear – or they’ll die trying.

Okay, that all sounds a bit preposterous – and it is – but you don’t go see an action movie because of its intricate plot do you? Well, you should – a movie with a good story well-told is always better than one without – but a lot can be forgiven due to the amazing action sequences. Producer Luc Besson, the godfather of European action films, pulls out all the stops here. The thing to remember here is that these stunts are being pulled off as you see them – no wires, no CGI. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

While neither Rafaelli or Belle are particularly great actors, they do have plenty of screen presence, enough to fill out most action star requirements. Rafaelli, a shaven head martial artist is a cross between Vin Diesel’s brooding sexuality and Jet Li’s agile grace; he is from the Clint Eastwood school of acting where lines are sparingly spoken and when they are, growled.

Belle is one of the originators of Parkour and at 35 is in marvelous shape. In District B13 his stunts dominated; Rafaelli is featured more here but when Belle is onscreen your breath is automatically held. He moves with grace and assurance, king of the jungle in an urban landscape. Both Belle and Rafaelli have enough to be action stars in the States in a just world. For now, they’re essentially objects of cult affection by discerning action junkies who don’t mind plowing through a few subtitles (although the cut released here is dubbed) to get their share of action goodness.

The plot is pretty weak and the ending aptly described by the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Amy Biancolli as a steaming pile of huh. There is some validity to the complaints about the somewhat haphazard plot points that kind of clunk up the movie but the frenetic action sequences more than make up for this. In a year where the action films have largely been lame, this gem sits in wait for discerning action fans to discover. If this sounds like you, you need to give this one a shot.

WHY RENT THIS: Amazing martial arts and parkour stunts. Belle and Rafaelli are charismatic.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Falls apart in the third reel. Political satire loses something in the translation.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of violence, some bad language and drug usage.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: David Belle didn’t practice most of the stunts so that he could give the action a sense of freshness and improvisation so most of what you see him doing he’s doing for the very first time.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a production diary as well as a music video from French hip-hop artist Alonso.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: €13.1M on a €12M production budget; the movie probably lost money at the box office.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Fast and the Furious

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Prince of Egypt