If you are in the market for a good disaster-thriller film doused with a good helping of drama and social conflict, Concrete Utopia will be a good choice for you this year. It is nominated as South Korea’s entry to the 96th Academy Awards under the Best International Feature Film category and is based on a webtoon entitled Pleasant Bullying by Kim Soongnyung and directed by Um Tae-hwa. Read on for our Concrete Utopia Movie Review.
A Compelling Feature
Since the film is only based on the second part of the aforementioned webtoon, one might find it a tiny bit confusing during the first few minutes. I had thought initially that the film might be similar to the typical natural disaster movies with long clips of the actual catastrophe. I mean there were some shown here, but the focus is elsewhere. It doesn’t mean that the film lacked the visual eye candy of a natural disaster–I can attest that the graphics are top-notch. However, Concrete Utopia focuses on the life and struggle of survivors post-disaster—the aftermath of a terrible earthquake.
A lone apartment high-rise has endured amidst everything else in the vicinity and this is where everything circulates (hence the title of the film). There are three main characters that play a huge part in this film: Yeong Tak, the resident representative, Min-seong, a public servant, and his wife Myeong-hwa, a nurse. The survivors must find a way to stay alive amidst the dwindling resources, lack of government rescue, and most of all, the incredibly frigid weather.
I will not go into detail to prevent spoilers, because the film’s strong point is its plot and how it shows the twists and revelations of each character during their fight for survival. However, I can assure you that the film will surely leave you pondering deeply on the real life aspects of social disparity and human nature. Man’s capability to violence when faced with threats to their survival, searing mob mentality, lack of morality, and what truly weighs the ‘greater good’ are some of the themes present throughout the whole film.
You will find that even the most drastic and horrible decisions made in the film can be agreeable; and I myself could not deny that yes, some things just had to be done because they are necessary to survive.
Remarkable Cinematic Journey
Apart from the dramatic plot, I would like to highlight the impressive cinematography of this film. I have mentioned that there were only a few scenes focusing on the earthquake occurrence. It isn’t a disaster-thriller film without some clips showing the actual catastrophe. Nonetheless, the graphics are visually appealing. The devastation that the earthquake caused throughout the vicinity is very lifelike. The CG is top-tier and you can definitely see the details of the destroyed environment in various points of view in the film.
To the discerning eye, the film is a treasure trove for creative cinematic cuts and filters. The subject focus, closeups, framing, and composition are impressive. The color grading is consistent with the whole ambience of the movie: frigid, dramatic, with a hint of warmth during the intense and climactic scenes. Overall, it’s a splendid visual experience.
As I write this Concrete Utopia Movie Review, I am happy to say that I whole-heartedly recommend everyone to see this film. If you have watched Snowpiercer (2013), Parasite (2019), The Platform (2019), and other similar social conflict and post-apocalyptic/disaster thriller themed films or media, I reckon Concrete Utopia can be one to expand the list. It definitely left an impression on me—I had to think, ‘Will I also go to such lengths just to survive?’
The actors performed really well in this film and I felt every painful cry—every shout of anguish. This can definitely be a tough contender for the Academy Awards—considering that South Korean-produced Parasite managed to snag its own mark in history.
On a sidenote, I was really happy to see the actor for Yeong Tak, Lee Byung-hun, execute his role so well here. The last time I saw him was back when he was Storm Shadow from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and I did not expect him to land such a strong, powerful, and emotional performance in his mother tongue.
Concrete Utopia releases at local movie theaters this September 20th but you can also check here to find where you can catch an early sneak preview of the film.