CONCRETE UTOPIA (Konkeuriteu Yutopia)

(director/writer: Um Tae-hwa; screenwriter: Lee Shin-ji; cinematographer: Cho Hyoung-rae; editor: Han Mee-yeon; music: Kim Hae-won; cast: Lee Byung-hun (Kim Young-tak), Park Bo-young (Myung-hwa), Park Seo-jun (Min-sung), Park Ji-hu (Hye-won); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Byun Seung-min; A Lotte Entertainment release of a Climax Studio production/BH Entertainment; 2023-South Koreain Korean with English subtitles)

“An intense earthquake survival thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The South Korean director Um Tae-hwa (“Vanishing Time: The Boy Who Returned”/”Ingtoogi: The Battle of internet trolls”) co-writes with Lee Shin-ji this visually stunning moralizing earthquake disaster epic on human behavior.

Concrete Utopia is South Korea’s entry for the 96th Academy Awards.

It’s an intense earthquake survivalist thriller set in Seoul, Korea. After a massive quake (CGI filmed) erupts in the concrete city of Seoul,  the city is filled with rubble and many deaths. The desperate survivors in a building complex set-up a makeshift society under the leadership of the action-driven visionary leader Kim Young-tak (Lee Byung-hun), who rushes into a burning building to save lives. He’s thereby elected by the people as fit to be their leader who will maintain law and order in such foreboding times. 

Only one apartment complex, Hwang Gung, is livable, in this post-apocalypse period, as the tale takes the form of an allegory, which results in a class-conflict between the haves and the have-nots. If you don’t live in the only apartment complex still left standing in the world, you will probably not survive for long. The residents of Hwang Gung do what they can to keep out those who are not residents.

“Concrete Utopia” uses satire to drive home its point that people are selfish and its the rare few who are not selfish.

We follow the story through the eyes of Min-Seong (Park Seo-Joon), a former public servant who lives in the apartment block with his nice nurse wife, Myeong-Hwa (Park Bo-Young). They are a decent couple who after taking in a homeless kid and his mother soon feel overwhelmed by all the homeless wanting to have what they have. Feeling overwhelmed, the couple act like the others in their building to keep out the outsiders trying to sneak into their living quarters.

The film bleakly explores the ugly side of human nature, in a provocative way, that is at times mind-boggling and soulful.

It won me over with a long closing shot that pans the destroyed city and seems to plead with the survivors of the catastrophe to not their lose their humanity and do the right thing even when faced with such dire circumstances.

Though the thought-provoking film lacks fresh ideas–it’s well-crafted, well-acted by the large ensemble cast, and well-executed. It clearly shows how even a decent couple can only go so far in helping others before turning their back on them so they can survive.

It played at the Fantastic Fest.

Concrete Utopia
REVIEWED ON 11/16/2023  GRADE: B