Ta-Weo (The Tower) (Ji-hoon Kim, 2012)
Of all the films I watched on the day I’m writing these reviews, which is four and a half, the clear, and quite surprising, winner was The Tower, the newest blockbuster from Ji-hoon Kim, whose Sector 7 I found really kind of underwhelming when I watched it six months ago. As it is easy to discern from the poster, The Tower is something of an homage to (it is not nearly close enough to be considered a remake) the classic 1974 disaster film The Towering Inferno, and so I turned it on hoping for a bit of mindless fluff to bleach my brain after the horrors that were The Shock Labyrinth and Zombie Hunter. And on one level that is exactly what I got, the sort of schadenfreude that is just oodles of fun to watch unfold on the screen. But Kim and co-writer Sang-don Kim (Once Upon a Time in Seoul) have a few tricks up their sleeves that turn this from a mindless, fun disaster film into something quite special.
Dae-ho (Memories of Murder‘s Sang-kying Kim) is one of the safety officers at a spiffy new high-rise in Seoul. Very high-profile, very untested, and as we get through the first half-hour of the movie, we find out there are more problems than initially suspected. But, of course, it’s Christmas Eve, and there’s a gala party planned on the 54th floor. One character even says, when Young-ki cautions that because of some problems with the sprinkler system they should install more fire extinguishers, “why are you worried about fire extinguishers? You should be worried about party planning!” Yes, folks, they might as well have called this building the Titanic, and sure enough, strong winds combined with building height cause problems with some helicopters they’ve hired for publicity purposes, one of them collides with the tower, and suddenly there are thousands of people either trapped or fleeing for their lives, including Dae-ho’s daughter Ha-na (Min-ah Jo in her first screen appearance) and Yoon-hee (Open City‘s Ye-jin Son), whom Dae-ho is not-so-secretly in love with, and with whom Ha-na is trying to set him up. This story runs parallel to that of the brigade of firefighters called in to rescue the people trapped on the 54th floor (who include Ha-na and Yoon-he, along with a number of minor dignitaries and other such folks).
What really makes this movie work, better than the disaster movies of the seventies and, for that matter, better than any other disaster movie I’ve ever seen, is how well the romance, and subsequent thriller, subplot is written; it is easy to come to care for these three characters, and that makes the second half of the film so much more than a simple disaster picture. Sure, on every other level it’s the same old thing you’ve seen dozens of times, though Kim recognizes, and plays on, the inherent comedy in the situation in a way that no seventies disaster movie did, at least not intentionally. The setup is a bit slow, but that’s a minor stumbling block. One helluva good time, well worth seeking out. *** ½