‘11 A.M.’ takes audiences back to the near future

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‘11 A.M.’ takes audiences back to the near future

On the surface, “11 A.M.” has all the trapping of a high-concept Hollywood sci-fi film: a wormhole, a technological breakthrough, a wealthy Russian investor, a team leader set on changing something in his past, lovers who are mixing work and pleasure, and an underground lab.

How you turn those trappings into a success, though, is tricky.

“I think now I understand why Korean filmmakers have steered clear of the genre,” said the film’s veteran director Kim Hyun-seok on Wednesday at a press conference.

Flanked by his leads Choi Daniel, Jung Jae-young and Kim Ok-bin, the director, known for such films as “Cyrano Agency” and “YMCA Baseball Team,” said that he had no idea at first just what he was getting himself into.

“It was daunting, especially shooting the first 20 minutes of the movie,” said Kim, stressing he had no idea how much energy and expense went into a single action sequence.

“And it’s hard to go all out unless you’ve got a blockbuster budget. That’s probably why all the directors have avoided it,” he said.

Judging by the reactions at the press screening, many would seem to agree. But, then again, the ideas behind “11 A.M.” can be a bit difficult to grasp. The plot comes with a humorous disclaimer from Jung.

“If you watched the movie and didn’t like it, it’s because it’s complex. You have to watch it again,” he intoned.

“11 A.M.” unfolds when a group of scientists, who have been working on time travel technology for three years, are forced to test their device on themselves. The device can move objects ahead 24 hours, but the scientists have never tried it on people before. Now two team members, Woo-suk (Jung) and Young-eun (Kim Ok-bin), must make the trek to 11 a.m. the next day.

When they arrive, they find a lot has happened in a day, so they gather CCTV footage and take it back with them to the present to warn of the disturbing events soon to come.

“It’s about a man trying to shape the future, and it also shows how trivial humans can be,” said Jung about his character.

Director Kim can no doubt relate to Jung’s character, as he became one of just a few Korean directors to tackle the science fiction genre.

“When production began, I did try to read a lot of textbooks on science and time travel,” he said.

Kim said that he gave up on trying to understand the science and philosophy behind time travel, and instead focused on what he does best: depicting emotion.

After the initial tour of the underground lair where the film is set, people take center stage in the story and logic fades out.

There is also symbolism and ethics addressed in “11 A.M.,” under a veneer of sci-fi. For example, there is a painting in the film that depicts an angel and a demon. Kim says it sums up the movie.

“It fit with the theme,” he said. “There are two sides to a person, the good and the bad.”

The film delivers a strong message about the evil that accompanies selfishness, through dialogue, consequences and even flashbacks. This message about selfishness is something that resonated with Jung.

“I would have just left my team behind if it was me,” mused Jung, who said he loved every moment of playing a scientist.

“To be cast as a Kaist scientist was such an honor,” said Jung, referring to Korea’s science and technology university. “I don’t think I’ll ever play such a distinguished character like this in my career again.”

Although happy with the outcome, the actors said that at first they did have their misgivings about the ambitious production.

“[The director] is really laid back and doesn’t overthink things,” said Jung, adding that Kim’s punctuality worried him at first. “He actually got more annoyed than the actors if we had to work overtime.”

Kim Ok-bin agreed that the director’s laissez-faire attitude troubled her, too. “I thought the director didn’t give his all and was angry with him,” she said. “But looking at the end result, I was wrong. I hugged him to express my gratitude.”

As the conference came to an end, the director asked viewers to be as generous as the actors. “I just wish viewers will watch [the movie] with an open mind,” said Kim.

The film opens Nov. 28.

By CARLA SUNWOO [carlasunwoo@joongang.co.kr]
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