A collaborative project between two of South Korea’s most prominent genre film-makers, Doomsday Book is a delightful anthology of short films about the end of humanity. In Yim’s first entry, Brave New World, an awkward research assistant inadvertently ignites the zombie apocalypse when he throws out a fetid apple (it kinda makes sense in the film). I think it’s supposed to be a sly reference to an apple banishing Adam and Eve from Paradise but, whatever. It feels like the first act of a decent zombie film with a hurried second and third act tacked on. Still, Yim manages to keep the action fun with a number of funny character details including the researcher’s awful bourgeois family and his blind date with a girl who likes to capture every moment on her camera phone.
The second film comes from Kim (I Saw the Devil, The Good, The Bad and The Weird) and is set in a future where robots are a part of everyday life. When an order of Buddhist monks announces that one of their androids is in fact the incarnation of Buddha, the unit’s manufacturer gets pretty concerned. Consider the implications: if robots can do everything better than us, at what point do we become obsolete? A robot deity is probably a symptom of the human decline. This is indeed a beautifully made episode, even if its spiritual musings often flew over our heads. I suspect it would play better to an audience more familiar with Buddhist teachings.
Last of all is Happy Birthday, by far the wackiest of the three films.
When a young girl accidentally breaks her billiards-obsessed dad’s prized 8-ball, she orders a replacement from a strange website. You can imagine her surprise when she finds the ball is in fact 10km wide and hurtling towards Earth. The world goes into a panic – we watch Korean news anchors count down their final hours on Earth: the weather girl is pretty psyched to be on TV but the co-anchor isn’t taking imminent extinction too well. The young girl and her family take refuge in an underground bunker and discover that they might be able to do something to stop the ball’s delivery before it’s too late. This entry deeply enjoyable, but strange in a distinctly Korean way. To put it in a way the public might understand: it’s like a slightly understated, 30 minute version of the Gangnam Style video.
All three of the shorts function well on their own but as a single feature, they lack the kind of thematic cohesion that would mark this out as a must see. Like with any anthology film, no matter how good, at some point you’ll find yourself checking your watch to see how much more there is to go. When the credits finally roll, there’s almost a sense of relief when you realise there isn’t another movie to come.