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rochefort [Film Festival 09.21.12] Republic of Korea zombies apocalyptic scifi comedy

A new anthology that takes three different looks at how the world might end, Doomsday Book is a collaboration between directors Yim Pil-Sung (Hansel and Gretel) and Kim Ji-Woon (I Saw the Devil, A Tale of Two Sisters). In the opener, Pil-Sung's "A Brave New World", pollution and rancid meat cause a viral outbreak that results in a worldwide zombie crisis. The second, Ji-Woon's "The Heavenly Creature", takes place in a near future where a robot in a Buddhist monastery has achieved enlightenment. And the final instalment, "Happy Birthday", co-directed by Pil-Sung and Ji-Woon, follows a family whose daughter has provoked the apocalypse with a well-intended online purchase. The usual rules about anthology films, particularly the one about them typically being a mixed bag, apply here, even for die-hard fans of cinema of the apocalypse. But unlike some recent genre comps (yeah, I'm still hating on V/H/S) there's much more good than bad.

"A Brave New World" (aka "The New Generation") opens things up with the tale of a young man whose date goes horribly awry as a zombie outbreak takes hold throughout the city. Director Pil-Sung rapidly zings through the stages of the contagion, from subtle exposure to violent behavioural shifts to full-on zombie carnage, and offers veiled hints as to which facet of society might be most responsible for the unsanitary practices that result in tainted, disease-harbouring food. The climax features some excellent scenes of devastation juxtaposed with darkly satirical TV clips as a panel of news show guests struggles to admit the truth, and the final moments suggest a bizarre but provocative correlation between the zombie apocalypse and a certain key Biblical event.

The religious undercurrents carry through to the second piece, "The Heavenly Creature", which opens in a monastery where the monks believe robot RU-4 has transcended its programming as a manual labor machine. RU-4's manufacturer sends an investigator to determine the full extent of the robot's "malfunction", but the monks insist that RU-4 is in fact the Buddha, and hope to keep the company from reprogramming him or shutting him down. Once the company reps arrive, it becomes clear to all that they believe RU-4's self-awareness is indeed possible, and are actually more concerned about the robot uprising that is now almost guaranteed.

The final piece, and the one disappointment, is "Happy Birthday", which trades in the blackly comic tone of "Brave" and the provocative hard sci-fi of "Heavenly" for an absurdly comic tale about a little girl named Min-seo (Ji-hee Jin), who places an online order to replace her Dad's pool cue ball after she loses it. Through a sequence of events that I guess made sense at the time of writing, the ball is now massive and hurling through space on its way back to earth and the destruction of the planet's surface is inevitable, so Min-seo and her family retreat into Dad's fallout shelter to ride it out. Apparently this final segment is a re-interpretation of O Henry's "The Christmas Gift", but regardless of its source material it falls flat and ends the movie on a pretty corny note. Placement is key in an anthology, and "Birthday" should have been right there in the middle, if you ask me, so we could end on the high of either of the other two instalments. But don't let that stop you from checking out Doomsday Book. For two-thirds of its running time, it features some unmissable stuff.

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