Uh-oh: It’s a ‘blockbuster’

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Uh-oh: It’s a ‘blockbuster’

Two years for scripting, one year for pre-production, another year for filming and one more year for post-production. Thus was born “Natural City,” a Korean science fiction film opening Friday.
Making “Natural City” not only took time, but a great deal of money. Production alone called for a 7.6 billion won ($6.3 million) infusion, with more budgeted for marketing and distribution. That wouldn’t be much for Hollywood, but in today’s Korean film industry, it qualifies “Natural City” as a blockbuster.
In the Korean market, however, “blockbuster” has an additional meaning: nightmare. Last year, the Korean big-budget flicks “Resurrection of the Little Match Girl,” “Yesterday” and “R U Ready?” were all flops. They failed to draw either critical acclaim or healthy ticket sales. The essence of most of the criticism boiled down to “What on earth is this story about?” and “Where did all the money go?”
“Natural City” is likely to follow in the footsteps of its high-budget predecessors, in that it lacks enough drama to capture the audience. On the bright side, “Natural City” does offer eye-catching visuals throughout, so there is some hope for it.
Min Byung-chun, the director, treats viewers to myriad spectacular scenes, making the most of his special effects. Larger-than-life scenes like a devastated Seoul in the year 2080, and battles between cyborgs and the human agents trying to destroy them, appear from beginning to end, a credit to the craftsmanship of the director.
Mr. Min is paying homage to “Blade Runner” (1982), the landmark film based on a story by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick about humans, humanlike androids and the ethics of creating (and destroying) machines that can think and feel. “Natural City” also deals with relations between humans and cyborgs in the future.
The story is about R, a human agent ordered to terminate illegal cyborgs, who falls in forbidden love with Ria, a cyborg whose life will be terminated in 10 days. All R can do to save Ria is to take Zion, a human being with the same DNA structure as Ria, for a so-called “spirit dubbing.”
The director did not stop at imitating “Blade Runner,” intending his “Natural City” to be more of a “sci-fi romance.” But the film fails to hold true to the standard romance genre.
For instance, it does not explain how R and Ria’s relationship begins and develops. The film stops short at showing the love story’s tragic ending, leaving viewers bewildered. Without proper dramatization, the film’s grand visual effects flop.
The director’s effort to take a road not taken ― at least visually ― stands out. But in the end, the film merely confirms how difficult it is to do something new.

by Ki Sun-min
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