Whenever Korean filmmaker Kim Ji-Woon has a new movie out, it is something of an event. While we have to wait until next year for his new feature, the action movie “The Last Stand” (which is his English language debut and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s come-back film), “Doomsday Book” is an omnibus feature that he has contributed towards. The original plan for the film was that it was to be a three part film, all dealing with an “end of the world” theme, with directors Kim Ji-Woon, Yim Pil-Sung and Han Jae-Rim each directing a segment. For whatever reason Han Jae-Rim was not able to hold his end of the deal up, so Kim Ji-Woon and Yim Pil-Sung collaborated together to direct the third installment. So how does the finished film hold up?
The first segment of the film is entitled “A Brave New World” and is directed by Yim Pil-Sung (who was the director of “Hansel & Gretel) and deals with the impending apocalypse brought on by a zombie plague. While I enjoyed this segment, it is probably the weakest of “Doomsday Book”, and it is mainly due to its tone, or I suppose, its changing tones. The segment starts off in quite a silly manner as Yoon Seok-woo is forced to look after and clean his parent’s apartment while they jet-set themselves off on a nice vacation. While disposing of some rotten food in a food disposal bin, he causes a chemical reaction that starts a chain of events that leads to a form of mad cow disease, which ultimately causes the zombie outbreak. There isn’t a lot of depth to this segment, it is what it is, a zombie film. However it isn’t really concerned with the horror aspects of it either, there is little gore, rather it looks at how quickly the contagion and madness spreads. As I mentioned the tone initially is of a goofy nature, but when the zombie outbreak begins it tries to become more serious, but doesn’t quite pull it off. It even attempts to throw in a little romance between the zombies, which I actually thought was cute and it gave the segment a nice ending.
Kim Ji-Woon (director of “I Saw The Devil”) is the director of the second segment which is titled “Heavenly Creature” and it is arguably the best segment of “Doomsday Book”. This segment is set in the future where humans have an over-reliance on robots to help them through their daily lives. In a Buddhist monastery, a robot technician is called in to examine a robot who has found enlightenment. After the technician decides that there is nothing faulty with the robot the manufacturers of this artificial life-form panic and order this robot’s model for recall and destruction. They fear that now that the robot has independent thought (let alone enlightenment, something so few humans achieve) it has now become a threat towards human kind, but the technician who initially examined the robot starts to have second thoughts on whether it is the right and moral thing to do. The tone of this section is of a very serious nature and it actually deals with a lot of interesting and intellectual ideas. Personally I found it initially hard to settle into after coming off the jokey atmosphere of the previous segment, but once I did, “Heavenly Creature” was well worth viewing. As usual, Kim Ji-Woon’s visual style is prominent and this segment has some great visual effects in the creation of the robot. While the robot is perceived as a threat to all of humanity, this segment ends up differing from the others as it ultimately has less to do with the Armageddon, but rather comments on the human condition and what we take for granted.
The final segment which is titled “Happy Birthday” has Yim Pil-Sung credited as director, although Kim Ji-Woon does have a co-director’s credit also. Personally I would love to see how these two directors shared the directorial duties because while Pil-Sung is credited as the main director, I thought it was quite obvious to recognize a lot of Ji-Woon’s framing of shots. This segment is probably the silliest, as it is about a girl who accidentally orders a meteorite that will destroy the Earth, when she accesses an alien internet site. The fact that the meteor is actually an enormous “8” ball from a pool set is even more ridiculous, but I felt that the tone was more consistent than the initial segment, making it a very enjoyable viewing. The family dynamic established in this segment is what makes it standout and I particularly enjoyed the Earth’s final news broadcast which I thought was hilarious. As much as I enjoyed this segment, I felt that it had the weakest ending which is a shame because this is also the ending of “Doomsday Book” as a whole, so it should have gone out with more of a bang.
So how does “Doomsday Book” fare as a whole? Well, like the majority of omnibus features, it suffers from the inconsistencies between segments . While I say above that “Heavenly Creature” is the strongest segment, it is also the odd one out, due to the fact that the story told in this segment is dealt in such a serious manner. Personally I think that this causes a jarring effect, having a heavy drama between two comedic segments, which ultimately detracts from the entire feature. However to contradict myself, “Heavenly Creature” is also the main reason to see this film. Overall, the problem with omnibus features is that they always feel like a minor work, and while I did enjoy each individual segment on their own, I’m not sure that the sum of its parts makes “Doomsday Book” anything more than forgettable fluff. That said, in the moment I enjoyed it and I recommend it, but I’m not sure that I will remember much from it in the coming years.