Sunday, December 22, 2013

Kim Ji-hoon's THE TOWER: Korea gives us a sleek, smart, modern-day "Towering Inferno"

They've done most everything else at this point, have those Koreans -- hugely successful monster movies, wartime dramas, thrillers, rom-coms, police proceedurals and more: just last week I covered one hell of a good werewolf romance -- so why not revive one of those Irwin Allen-type spectacles we haven't seen for some time? Fortunately, it's not The Swarm but one of the guy's better mainstream movies. The Towering Inferno that we're seeing here. And coming from Korea. of course, it's filled to the brim with drama ("melo" variety) laughs, tears and oodles of the most spectacular special effects. It's called simply THE TOWER, and it's yours to stream on Netflix right now.

Being a Korean movie, you'll find a lot more class consciousness -- in this tale of a pair of hi-rise towers, below and further below, beset by bad planning and even worse maintenance -- than you would have caught in any of the Allen film of decades past. How the wealthy and powerful are catered to (and finally saved well before the hoi polloi) is just part of the reason the movie will push that 1%-vs-the-99% button. As directed and co-adapted (from what, I wonder?) by Kim Ji-hoon, shown at right, the movie takes awhile to get going, as we must first meet a lot of different characters, including the buildings' workers, owner and tenants plus members of the fire brigade who will come to the rescue (or try to, at least).

There's a widowed dad and his cute little daughter, his maybe-might-be love interest (who also works at the site), a young couple (he's a sou chef, she works at reception), a cleaning lady desperately saving for her son's college education, the uber-decent chief of that fire brigade and his new recruit, the sleazy money-grubbing guy who's in charge of the buildings, and lots more.

Once the problems begin (and mount like an out-of-control wildfire), the movie takes off and afterward barely leaves us time to draw a breath. The special effect are first-rate -- from the holograph of an enchating performer, below, designed to amuse the guests... the crashes, fires and explosions that keep popping up as rescue becomes less and less likely. Filmmaker Kim is particularly good with his pacing, never allowing the special effects to supersede the need for clarity of what is happending and suspense as to what this will mean.

Self-sacrifice plays a large part in the proceedings, as well, and as often happens with these new Korean films, you'll find yourself more moved by the finale than you might have expected.

Sure, this is yet another exercise in blockbuster creation via suspense, special effects and a decent enough story-line to keep us watching. But given the materials at hand, this one is handled about as skillfully as you could wish in a two-hour fingernail-biting entertainment.

Stealing from so many other, older movies -- from that Allen-produced film above to the better-than-expected Sylvester Stallone pic Daylight -- The Tower moves from placidity and Christmas-time joy to shock and awe with surprising ease and skill.

From CJ Entertainment, the movie can now be seen on Netflix streaming and Amazon Instant Video and on DVD.

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