Archive for August 8th, 2013

The Tower (2012)


It’s Christmas Eve in Seoul and for the brand new Tower Sky twin residential skyscrapers a big party is being held on the 70th floor for some very important people and no expense is being spared even getting a couple of helicopters to drop down artificial snow on the partygoers. During a sudden gust in the wind, one of the helicopters crashes into one of the towers and suddenly it is on fire. The fire sprinklers are unable to work properly and soon people are leaping from high up down on the busy street below and a lift is sent tumbling down a shaft in flames. A team of fire-fighters from a nearby fire station who have a new rookie in their ranks are assigned the task of getting the fire under control which is no easy thing but first the safety and rescue of the people trapped on the floors above the fire is their priority which includes a manager and his young daughter. Then some revelations come out that the tower’s owners have cut back on some safety features on the building’s design. As the fire begins to rage out of control, the tower’s engineers say that the steel of the entire building is buckling because of the scorching heat and it is likely to fall down. A decision is made to put down some explosives and bring the tower down even if there are some survivors still in the building. Will the brave fire-fighters manage to save everybody before everything comes crashing down?

The 70’s was the era that saw Hollywood deliver on some epic disaster movies such as Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno starring the late great Steve McQueen.  The Tower rehashes the plot of that movie albeit with some minor changes to bring an epic edge-of-your-seat story filled with excitement and drama. The plot remains the same – a tall skyscraper which accidentally catches fire although the skyscraper here is a twin one with a glass bridge linking the towers together on one of the high floors. OK, so it’s a tried and tested formula seen before but when it works so well as it does in this movie why try and change it. The set up for a disaster waiting to happen is introduced fairly early with sprinklers not working to a warning that there would be strong gusts of wind outside the towers. The first half of the movie introduces us to the main players such as the brave fire-fighters whose Captain is more at home battling blazes with his crew and inducting a new rookie to the ranks rather than being at home with his wife to the meek security man with his potential love interest colleague and his daughter. The characters never try to be different from any other disaster movie – it’s the usual stock caricatures……. although I have to say I’ve never seen a group of Christians gathered at the tower to celebrate Christmas used for comedic effect before in this type of movie! Most of the characters are given a chance to shine onscreen. Some of them will survive and some will perish. You can’t let everybody survive in a disaster movie! There has to be casualties to up the tension and some of the deaths come quite unexpectedly when you least expect anything to happen. The question is trying to guess who will make it and who won’t. Some of the characters are easy to identify with so the viewer starts to care enough to want them to get out of the tower alive. There’s even a villainous character in the story in the President of the Tower Sky complex who is more concerned about the VIP’s in the party and asks the fire-fighters to rescue them first. Well you can guess what the answer from the Captain back to him is!!!

The Tower 2012 screenshot

The second half of the movie focuses on the rescue services dealing with evacuating people trapped by the raging inferno, the losing battle the fire-fighters face at containing the huge blaze and the shocking scenario that both towers will eventually topple down.  The set-pieces involving real fire and scenes of destruction are fantastic to watch and very gripping. The scene in which people are shown trapped in a lift with a fire burning underneath them is one that stands out as the shoe of one guy starts melting and faces and hands get burnt when pressed against the lift wall due to the extreme heat. You really get a sense of how scalding hot it is inside the lift carriage and that in itself makes it terrifying. Another spectacular sequence involves the collapse of the glass bridge between the two towers which is full of suspense as some survivors including Dae Ho’s daughter walk gingerly across the bridge which starts to crack under the weight of too many people attempting to walk across it. Naturally with this kind of movie there is going to be some melodrama used which some viewers might find to be a little cheesy. One of the best things about this movie is the fantastic CG effects used. It looks and feels like a lot of money has been put into creating some truly incredible sequences which are unforgettable.  It’s obvious that the Korean movie industry has finally caught up with Hollywood and can match them for anything. To be honest It’s the effects you’ll remember more than the story or the acting in this movie.

There’s a fair number of cast members in this movie but two stand out more than anybody else. One is Kim Sang-kyung who plays the movie’s unlikely hero Dae Ho, a single parent who is thrust into a life or death situation of not only trying to save his own little daughter Hana but also his beautiful female colleague Yun Hee who manages the tower’s kitchens. He’s not your usual macho testosterone hero but just a normal guy who has to do extraordinary things and is pushed to his limit in the face of a disaster. Equally as good is veteran actor Sol Kyung-gu as the grizzled Captain of the fire-fighters Young Ki who displays immense courage and sacrifices his own life in order to save the remaining survivors and his fellow fire-fighters.

Director Kim Ji-hoon’s last movie ‘Sector 7’ was a bit of a disaster in itself (to pardon a pun) about a monster on the loose on an oil rig so my expectations weren’t high when I saw he was helming this movie but thankfully he has managed to redeem himself.  Despite the story being unoriginal, he manages to make this movie such a thrill ride and there is never a dull moment due to the quick pacing.

As a disaster movie, The Tower hits all the right buttons. It’s a visually breath taking spectacle with plenty of excitement that should keep most Asian movie fans happy. If ever there was a movie that can be called a blockbuster this is one of them. Recommended.

Sadako’s  Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Don’t Look Up (1996)

Don't Look Up 1996

Aka Ghost Actress

Director Toshiro Murai is working on his new WWII drama movie which he hopes will give him his big break. Whilst looking at some rushes with his crew of what he shot earlier in the day another film mysteriously appears on the same print. Everybody is surprised not least the cinematographer who thinks some mislabelled stock has been used. Nevertheless Murai starts to become intrigued by the footage and is sure he remembers a scene he saw in the footage from a movie he saw on the TV when he was a child. He asks the cinematographer to research and find out anything about this movie. On the old eerie stage where Murai’s movie is being filmed strange events begin to happen. Ghostly voices are heard by the lead actress and an accident occurs in which a young actress is tragically killed after she falls from a catwalk. The cinematographer reports back to Murai that he has burnt the old footage as he thinks it is evil but he did find some information.  It seems that on the same stage many years ago an actress who was on a catwalk above the studio floor fell to her death during a shooting of a movie. The production was scrapped but Murai is convinced he has seen the movie featuring the actress on TV. Why is the actress haunting the film set? Is Murai’s movie cursed and doomed to never be completed?

This movie by Hideo Nakata (his 2nd feature) could be seen as the birth of the ‘ghost girl with long black hair’ genre that flourished in Japan during the back-end of the 90’s and the early 00’s. Many ideas from this movie would make it to his next project ‘The Ring’ and he would expand upon them so this movie is basically a precursor of sorts to it.  Even though Don’t Look Up is short at only 73 mins it packs a lot in the running time, is very atmospheric and well-acted. The story builds on the spooky mood very gradually until it leads to a terrifying conclusion.  The only problem is at the end you’re left wanting more! The premise of a story within a story is interesting and only makes the viewer wanting to find out more about the mysterious footage. Nakata wisely chooses at first to leave the ghostly actress in the shadows and blurred so you can’t see her features properly. You can see the shape of a woman with long black hair but that is all. The only problem I had with this movie is about the ghost actress herself – it’s never revealed who she is, why she is haunting the studio and how did Murai see the uncompleted movie if it was never shown on TV in the first place? Then again perhaps that was Nakata’s intention all along to make the viewer ask questions? Thankfully there are no cheap scare scenes which are prevalent so much in Western horrors these days in this story and instead Nakata opts to show growing unease and glimpses of something in the shadows as his main source for frightening the viewer.  Quite stylishly done I thought and by the end of the movie I was quite literally on the edge of my seat and chewing my nails!!

Dont-Look-Up screenshot

The cast do well in their roles – nothing special about their performances stand out but I can’t fault them for anything. Yasuyo Shirashima and Kei Ishibashi play the sisters Hitomi and Saori in Murai’s ill-fated production.  It is seen that Murai has a crush on Hitomi, the elder sister in his movie as he keeps a photo of her by his bed whilst Saori, the young teen actress keeps annoying some of the crew with her immature antics. Yurei Yanagi as Murai becomes so distracted by the ghostly footage that he starts to become somewhat obsessed in finding out everything about it. Unlike some horror stories from some actors/actresses you hear about some movie directors who rule with an iron rod during a shooting of a movie, Murai comes across as a fair, hardworking and a patient person who doesn’t have to resort to barking out orders to his cast to get the best performance he wants out of them.

Overall a very entertaining and scary movie and even though the parallels to The Ring is obvious I liked this movie a lot. Recommended.

No trailer for this movie I’m afraid and I can’t even find a clip.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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