Review: Lee Byung Hun, Park Seo Joon tackle humanity, survival in 'Concrete Utopia'

Kristofer Purnell - Philstar.com
Review: Lee Byung Hun, Park Seo Joon tackle humanity, survival in 'Concrete Utopia'
Park Seo-joon in "Concrete Utopia"
Columbia Pictures

MANILA, Philippines — When the apocalypse arrives, the true face of humanity reveals itself — but it's the side that people choose to hide that may cause ultimate devastation.

"Concrete Utopia," partially based on the webtoon "Pleasant Bullying" by Kim Soong-nyung, follows the residents of the solitary apartment complex still standing after a global earthquake.

Lee Byung-hun's Yeong-tak is selected as a leader to clear out non-residents after seeing he is capable of heroics, but it's not just the community's survival weighing on his mind.

Helping him carry out tasks is Park Seo-joon's Min-seong as he has experience in public service, though some of his choices do not bode well with his wife Myeong-hwa, a nurse played by Park Bo-young.

One must not look too far to search for films that depict societal hierarchies in the face of survival, for example, Bong Joon-ho's film adaptation of "Snowpiercer" and his Oscar-winning movie "Parasite."

Just last year, the Palme d'Or winner "Triangle of Sadness," starring Dolly de Leon in an international breakout role, satirically poked fun at power shifts when survival becomes the primary focus.

The film can be forgiven for its computer-generated earthquakes and rubble since its main focus is the residents and their decisions about who gets to live or not, literally, because sending people out of the apartment complex is pretty much a death sentence.

"Concrete Utopia" drops early hints on the broken system in place and the equally broken people running it, but it doesn't take away from the horrific unraveling of the story.

Related: Korea sends Park Seo Joon, Park Bo Young film 'Concrete Utopia' to Oscars 2024

Seo-joon's Min-seong, in particular, gets caught in the crosshairs of what is considered "right," his moral conundrum stemming from wanting to protect Bo-young's Myeong-hwa, the genuine soul of the film.

The runaway star of the movie is Byung-hun as his Yeong-tak teeters from courageous to terrifying, especially as the story reveals his true self, a plot point handled well by director Um Tae-hwa and co-writer Lee Sin-ji.

Another expert decision by Tae-hwa is tapping Joon-ho's editing collaborator, Han Mi-yeon, whose skills come to shine in the build-up to the climax through two different scenes, and in most scenes concerning Byung-hun's petrifying character.

Yeong-tak, the apartment complex's rules, the treatment of "cockroaches" (non-residents) and even the blinding beliefs of Kim Sun-young's Geum-ae all speak to the fragility of a broken system, drawing the line between humanity and inhumanity.

"Concrete Utopia" may seem simple in comparison to most films that tackle social dynamics and survival, and Park Ji-hu is only given just enough screen time to drive the story forward, but it nevertheless nails down how some selfish or misguided people would respond in a disaster.

It's no "Parasite" in any case, but South Korea submitting it to the 2024 Academy Awards following its box office success in the country shows it believes the film has something to tell the world.

After all, the film itself says that in the apocalypse "there is no difference between a murderer and a pastor," and everyone just becomes ordinary people.

"Concrete Utopia" will have sneak previews in select Philippine cinemas on September 11 and 12 before a nationwide release on September 20.

RELATED: WATCH: Park Seo Joon, Park Bo Young in 'Concrete Utopia' teaser

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