South Korean filmmaker Um Tae-hwa’s ambitious third feature film, Concrete Utopia, is a dystopian disaster thriller that is also an intense psychological drama and a comment on class and power. The film is reminiscent of the 1970’s Hollywood disaster films, not just because of the calamities but in the examination of how people behave in crises.
Based on a webtoon, the film begins with a massive earthquake decimating the city of Seoul, reducing it to rubble except for one hi-rise apartment building left standing. The residents then band together (some more than others) to keep others out in an effort to survive. Suffice to say both the inherent human selfishness and brutishness along with compassion and empathy bubble to the surface. The film reminded me, at varying times, of Triangle of Sadness, Mad Max, Snowpiercer, Dogville, and even The Poseidon Adventure.
Tae-hwa made his directorial feature debut with Ingtoogi: The Battle of Internet Trolls in 2013 and followed up with 2016’s Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned, a fantasy film inspired by the sinking of a ferry boat where the government tried to hide the truth from the population. Concrete Utopia is South Korea’s submission for the International Feature Oscar and will open in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on December 8 and nationwide on December 15.
Awards Daily had a Zoom Video Chat with Um about his thrilling new film as well as how Parasite’s enormous success has influenced the South Korean film industry.