A tragicomic criss-crosser that’s mostly good fun while the lights are down, “A Century’s End” follows a wide swath of stressed-out Seoulites whose lives look set to implode just prior to the new millennium. Sophomore feature of writer-director Song Neung-han, following his 1997 local B.O. hit “No. 3,” a comedy about a bunch of colorful losers, reps a tricky sell overseas thanks to its outdated millennium theme and episodic structure, but deserves time on quality webs. Released last December in South Korea, film got buried by higher-profile items.
Pic is divided into three half-hour segs, with a what-happened-later coda. In “Moratorium,” the best of the lot, scriptwriter Choi Du-sup (Kim Kap-su) holes up in a seedy hotel to write a melodrama that a producer friend has been bugging him to finish. He’d rather work on an idea for a serial-killer thriller (“like ‘Seven’ but with social comment,” he enthuses) and when his hard drive is wiped out, he gets the chance.
Sprightly episode is wittily scripted and full of characters (scripter’s wife, a street vendor of yo-yos) who recur in later segs, as well as containing some neat barbs about the local film industry. Kim is excellent as the angry, hard-driven hack, and there’s almost enough material here for a whole picture.
The mood slackens in “Amorality,” about a poor college student, So-ryeong (Lee Jae-un), briefly seen in the first seg, who sleeps with an arrogant businessman for money to help her family. Episode drifts off into scenes of sex ‘n’ drugs by young, bored Seoulites, and gets back on track only near the end as it cleverly connects with a TV news item in “Moratorium.”
Third episode, “Moral Hazard,” begins with the character of the scripter’s sharp-tongued wife and fans out into the complicated love life of a married college professor (Cha Seung-won), one of whose liaisons takes place in the same hotel the scripter was working in. The 10-minute wrap (“Y2K”) finds the main characters not having learned a lot from their past experiences.
Like many “millennium madness” pictures, this one is basically an excuse to throw a lot of ideas into the same pot and justify the mix with a convenient label. But the compact, clever construction, dialogue-driven script and fully drawn characters make this entertaining most of the way, and tech credits and performances are both fine down the line. Background of the fallout from South Korea’s recent economic meltdown is ever-present but never fetishized.