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‘The Tower’ stands tall as a classic disaster film with a human side

Dec 21,2012
“The Tower” is loaded with massive computer graphics and heart-rendering rescue efforts of those trapped in a high-rise skyscraper. Provided by CJ E&M

In much the same way that the global warming disaster movie “The Day After Tomorrow” gave people pause about their use of fossil fuels, Kim Ji-hoon’s “The Tower” will have viewers staying away from skyscrapers for some time.

The director flexes his CGI (computer-generated imagery) muscle in the action drama to depict the catastrophic consequences of a fire that roars through the Tower Sky, a posh 108-story skyscraper.

“The power of this movie lies in sophisticated computer graphics effects: 1,700 cuts out of 3,000 are based on CG and 500 of the CG cuts are full 3-D cut scenes,” says Kim.

“I also tried to combine live action shoots with CGI to make the disaster scenes more authentic. For the ending scene, we did a shooting of a miniature in the United States with a motion control camera. If the movie is well-received, I will attribute it to its elaborate workmanship.”

Despite the broad brush strokes that required a 10 billion won ($9.3 million) budget, Kim’s latest film, which is scheduled to hit theaters on Christmas Day, is not all about eye-popping spectacles. There is also a human side.

“This is a disaster movie, but I want to portray people’s desperate hope to survive,” says Kim.

“The Tower” involves heart-pounding stories of rescuers and the people trapped in the luxurious building.

Lee Dae-ho (Kim Sang-kyung) is a single father living with his only daughter Ha-na and is head of maintenance at the Tower Sky complex in Seoul. He has feelings for Seo Yoon-hee (Son Ye-jin), the manager of a restaurant in the building, but has been unable to muster the courage to tell her.

The owner of the complex, Mr. Jo, decides to hold a “White Christmas” party for tenants and VIP customers on Christmas Day, with helicopters circling above sprinkling snow.

The party, however, leads Dae-ho to cancel his promise to spend the day at an amusement park with his daughter.

When the Christmas atmosphere reaches its peak with sprayed snow and festive gold lights, the movie takes a dreadful turn as a helicopter crashes into Tower Sky and the complex catches fire.

Dae-ho races to rescue Ha-na, Yoon-hee and his colleagues. Legendary firefighter Kang Young-kee (Sol Kyung-gu) also makes his way to Tower Sky, throwing himself into the smoke and flames to try to help bring the blaze under control. Despite a long-simmering conflict between the two men, they set aside their differences to work together to save lives.

“The Tower” is an action drama with a large scope, but the idea of the film came to Kim from his experience as a boy.

“When I was a middle school student, I visited Seoul for the first time and saw 63 Building [a skyscraper 817 feet high with 63 floors],” he says “I was struck by that and imagined how it would feel to be trapped in there.

“I once got stuck in an elevator. I don’t remember how long I was in there, but it felt like quite a while. That was the moment when I first felt dread. The feeling helped me make the movie more realistic.”

Along with the movie maker’s personal experience, the film was influenced by John Guillermin’s “The Towering Inferno” (1974).

“I visited Hollywood before directing ‘The Tower.’ People praised the effort to bring the catastrophic blaze theme back to the screen, because it has become rare to make a fire action movie due to safety concerns since ‘The Towering Inferno,’?” says the 41-year-old director.

While the centerpiece of “The Tower” is the “killer fire,” Kim’s previous film was based on a “killer monster.”

His action horror movie “Sector 7,” which featured a computer-generated sea monster threatening a group of oil rigs, was panned by critics for its mediocre computer graphics, flat main characters and lack of continuity between scenes.

But the film director says this time is different.

“I worked on CGI for six months and spent three months converting the works when making ‘Sector 7.’ Because of time constraints, I wasn’t able to properly get the work done,” he says.

“But I worked on ‘The Tower’ for two years and took much more care with CGI.”

Despite disappointing results at home, “Sector 7” is the highest-grossing Korean movie ever in China, according to the distributor, CJ E&M.

The director is looking to restore the reputation he earned with the political drama “May 18” (2007) at home and maintain momentum abroad.

He has gotten off to a promising start: “The Tower” was pre-sold by CJ Entertainment to Entertainment One in United Kingdom; Splendid in Germany; Benelux; Zylo for French-speaking territories; Horizon International in Turkey; Rainbow Entertainment in Singapore; Indonesia and Malaysia; and Jonon Source in Mongolia.

By Park Eun-jee [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]



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