24 January 2013 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: The Tower
You can't help but to think of and compare this to the 1974 movie The Towering Inferno, given the many similarities between the two films. One of my favourite big budgeted spectacle of a disaster type movie from the 70s, this Korean version written by Kim Sang-Don settles for similar set action pieces, from the parties, to the incidents, to some of the solutions, while adding some of the inherent melodrama from Korea, coupled with a very stark, and rather there for laughs, portrayal of those with religious faith. It is a decent attempt, but one that wasn't out there first.
Director Kim Ji-Hoon had crafted a decent film that's paced right for a disaster epic of this scale, balancing the ensemble characters with scenes for each to shine in, while priming caricatures for certain death, as you would expect for the body count to rise. Set action pieces were commendably designed, from massive fire fighting, to rescue missions, and moments where characters find themselves in dead end situations, given the set up from early on within the first ten minutes outlining areas where challenges would be dished out, from non- working sprinklers to weather advice that goes defiantly unheeded. Naturally, there's the usual karma and retribution elements being weaved in, with room to showcase heroism and sacrifice. And given the subject matter there's also the educational element when criticizing mass panic that leads people to do the most irrational things, rather than what's right in the various scenario presented.
And this film is no less star-studded than its Hollywood counterpart too, spearheaded by Song Ye-Jin as Yun-Hee the restaurant manager making her rounds in preparation for a Christmas Eve party, as does the single dad and tower operations manager Dae-Ho (Kim Sang-Kyung), who also forms the complimentary beau for Yun Yee, with daughter Ha-Na (Jo Min-Ah) in tow that lends that father-daughter angle especially when the two loves of his life get stuck in the building, leading to a sort of rescue objective of sorts. Then there's the play up of the fire department, from courageous captain Kang Young-Ki (Sol Kyung-Gu), to Do Ji- Han playing a rookie fire fighter and Kim In-Kwon as another unlikely fire fighter here to provide some light comic relief.
But while this film has a number of characters rotating through the scenes for their individual spotlight moments, the characterization's much left to be desired, and ultimately you don't really feel nor connect with their plight that much. Unlike the Hollywood version where you really feel for the various characters, and get your adrenaline pumping with each death- defying situation they have to face and overcome in order to survive, Kim Ji-Hoon didn't manage to elicit the same genuine feelings. You hardly root for the characters nor feel a tinge of sadness to those who had to fall, and for those who deserve some just desserts, they get largely forgotten in the thick of things. Lee Han-Wi who plays a church elder celebrating Christmas with his mini congregation was also a character played for laughs, where every moment of prayer becomes answered not by divine intervention, but intervention through coincidence nonetheless.
In order to differentiate itself and pose a larger challenge, the tower here refers to the fictional Tower Sky buildings, with two massive skyscrapers reaching for the sky, reflecting on the obsession of architects who pander to the competition of having the tallest building in whichever modern city, and linked together through a glass bridge that you know is nothing more than a set up for something later on in the movie. Even though it's fictional, with reliance on CG to provide the illusion of scale and mass, the tower does become a character in itself, though in less successful terms if compared against the Hollywood original. CG was also obviously used in many of the disaster scenes, such as having choppers crash onto the facade and through into the building to become the catalyst. But CG cannot be used to replace solid story-telling, which is that little trip up that The Tower had suffered at various points where scenes felt disparate and transitions didn't gel too well.
But The Tower has its moments and would thrill the new film goer who hasn't seen The Towering Inferno, but to those who have, this Korean version hardly throws up something new nor surprising, coming off as a shallower knock off that could have done a lot better with the material and resources at its disposal. Still, it did good business at the Korean box office, and