A well-crafted Korean anthology, “Doomsday Book” imagines the end of the world via three disparate, tonally distinct scenarios. The first, directed by Yim Pil-sung, might best be described as a gross-out comedy-cum-horror love story wherein contaminated meat infects the population with every known zombie-movie trope. The second, more contemplative section, helmed by Kim Ji-woon, unfolds as an elegant meditation on textures and surfaces as a robot attains Nirvana, to his makers’ consternation. The closing, whimsical episode, by Yim and Kim together, reps a cosmic joke. A disarmingly light treatment of mass human extinction, the pic could find limited U.S. distribution.
With films like “Melancholia” laying out their mournful visions of the apocalypse, comedy and understated philosophizing indeed seem ripe for mining. Certainly nothing ties these three tales together beyond their Armageddon premise, but then again, the best anthologies seldom necessarily cohere.
In Yim’s “Brave New World,” a shy, geeky lab technician (Ryu Seung-beom), offered a resort vacation by his parents, discovers he must handle a ceaseless flow of garbage from the apartment complex they run. Fatefully, he takes a break from his endless rubbish detail, pausing long enough to enjoy a blind date with a beautiful girl (Ko Joon-hee) who miraculously cottons to his “puppy-dog eyes.” Though the geek leaves the trash behind, the camera doesn’t, following the garbage’s effluvia to its final destination: the stomachs of cows.
After half the population of Korea has gorged itself on putrid barbecue, the youth hang out in discos, their hallucinations and headaches worsening under the strobe lights, leading to a frenzy of vomiting, cannibalization and general pandemonium. What makes “Brave New World” funny is the speed and barely there transitions with which it lurches from cliche to cliche, mixing extreme horror with extreme romanticism to create an Edenic myth of Adam, Eve and a rotten apple.
The “Heavenly Creature” of Kim’s centerpiece is a beautiful robot, gleaming white and silver steel, striding through a temple of slotted wood and silken cloth. When a Buddhist monastery summons a technician to determine whether its ‘bot is the Buddha, the request confounds the worker, whose only clear mandate is to identify malfunctions. When he dithers, the president of the company arrives at the monastery with an extermination team, asserting that a robot with claims to enlightenment constitutes a threat to all humanity and must be destroyed; the robot has other ideas.
The two raucous episodes that bookend Kim’s cool Buddhist parable highlight its austere beauty. Similarly, the casual absurdity of the concluding “Happy Birthday” segment is heightened by its highfalutin lead-in. When a girl orders a Magic 8-Ball from a mysterious website to replace the one she wrecked, little does she guess that a suspiciously ball-shaped object will hurtle through space on a collision course with Earth 10 years later.