Director: Kim Ji-hoon
Starring: Son Ye-jin, Kim Sang-kyung, Sol Kyung-gu
Director Kim Ji-hun returns to the screen after his disastrous Sector 7. Taking a page from Irwin Allen, The Tower is quite clearly a Korean riff on the seminal 1970’s American classic, The Towering Inferno. Marketed as one of the big homegrown event films of last year, does he make up for the staleness of his last feature? Or does any credibility he have, go up in smoke?
On Christmas Eve, the super luxurious and opulent Tower Sky building complex hosts an annual party for only the wealthiest and most powerful people in South Korea. As the rest of the city prepares for the holidays, the workers in the building are busy at work, making sure everything is set for the important evening to come. With the busy nature of the preparations, corners are cut and safety measures are ignored which, predictably, lead to a catastrophe. When an aerial accident ignites an uncontrollable blaze at the center of the tower, there are hundreds of trapped personnel and guests on the upper floors. With time running out, firefighters and regular people join forces to survive the inferno and make it out of the building alive.
There is quite a large cast at work here, as stories are begun separately, but eventually join together for a singular story of survival. Without a doubt, my favorite actor in the film is Seol Kyung-gu, who plays fire chief Kang. He is badass, heroic, and always in control. He demonstrates a selflessness that is among the traits you look for in a firefighter. Kim Sang-kyung plays Lee, a management leader who finds his young daughter trapped among the survivors above and the unenviable task of going through the blaze is his. Son Ye-Jin plays Lee’s romantic interest, Yoon-hee, a beautiful manager as well, who was looking after Lee’s daughter when all hell breaks loose. The cast does a solid job and familiar faces dot the screen, but these three really provide the meat and potatoes of the film’s gravitas. They demonstrate equal parts desperation, loss, bravery, and fear and it is easy to root for these characters.
The movie is a top notch production with really good effects work, a solid soundtrack, and large sets. The tower itself is a fictitious building, but the presentation on screen is filled with realistic depictions. On point I found a little grating was the ‘close call’ syndrome of the film. While common in this genre, the near deaths are continuous and it gets a little ridiculous after a while. Son Ye-Jin is as gorgeous as always, but she rarely has much to do besides running, though she does take a bit of a leadership role and her chemistry with Lee’s daughter feels authentic enough.
In the end, The Tower is a pretty entertaining film. While it sticks pretty closely to the ‘disaster film’ trope, it hits all the appropriate bases and keeps the film at a good clip, even at 121 minutes. The set design is good and there is a lot of carnage on screen and the occasional bit of Korean humor to give the viewer a chance to catch their breath. In many ways the equivalent, and in many ways superior, to Hollywood blockbuster cinema, it is a movie looking for broad appeal. In the end, the film is big, loud, and a lot of fun, and you could do a lot worse than spend a couple hours of time with it.
You may enjoy the film if you enjoyed: Haeundae, Towering Inferno, and Armageddon
*Special thanks go out to CJ Entertainment for providing a viewing copy of the film!