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The Tower

Dir: Kim Ji-hoon. South Korea. 2012. 121mins

The Tower is a visually explosive and at times thoroughly engaging action film that should strong attract audiences as it is poised to dominate South Korean multiplexes over the Christmas period. While lacking in originality - it does perhaps suffer from far too many supporting roles that results in some poor character development – the film finds the right balance between catering for local audiences while remaining universal in its appeal. 

Combining actual images together with computer graphics, visual effects in Korean cinema have rarely looked so convincing.  

The release of The Tower comes at the end of an unprecedented year for local cinema, which has surpassed 100 million ticket sales for Korean films so far this year. Much like the record-breaking The Thieves and the popular A Werewolf BoyThe Tower is part of an effective trend to emulate Hollywood films, while also tailoring them for local audiences. The film opens in the US on January 11.

Sharing much in common with the Hollywood classic The Towering Inferno (1974), it takes place at a super-luxurious tall building complex in Seoul on Christmas Eve. The owner, Mr. Jo, devises a plan for a “White Christmas” party for its tenants and VIPs, which involves helicopters circling from above, but tragedy strikes when one of the helicopters crashes into the building and causes a fire.

The film spends the opening thirty minutes or so introducing the numerous characters relevant to the film’s narrative: from the building manager Dae-ho (Kim Sang-gyeong) through to the firefighter Young-kee (Seol Kyeong-gu) who’s at the forefront at combating the fire. While this comes across as sluggish and not wholly necessary, the film soon kicks into gear once the fire breaks out and the race to escape from the burning building ensues.

Technically, The Tower has raised the bar in terms of its visual effects - to the extent that it can compete with similar Hollywood films made on significantly larger budgets. Combining actual images together with computer graphics, visual effects in Korean cinema have rarely looked so convincing.  

The casting local stars who have featured in break-out international films – such as Sol Kyeong-gu (Haeundae, 2009), Son Ye-jin (April Snow, 2005) and Kim Sang-gyeong (Memories Of Murder, 2003) - is bound to increase the film’s profile both home and abroad. Though all three are effective playing their respective characters, it’s Sol who shines, but owing to a crowded cast list, he’s not given the screen time he so richly deserves.

Director Kim Ji-hoon, meanwhile, will hope that his latest film can emulate the box office success of his 2007 film May 18, which grossed $49.2million, rather than see a repeat of his more recent film, creature feature Sector 7 that was deemed one of the biggest flops of 2011 despite attracting $18.6million from a $10 million budget.

Internationally, after already securing a number of sales to a range of territories including the UK, US, Germany, Singapore and Indonesia, it should continue to attract buyers, while local prospects also remain strong.

Production company: The Tower Pictures

International sales: CJ E&M, www.cjent.co.kr

Producer: Lee Sang-jik

Screenplay: Kim Sang-don

Music: Kim Tae-seung

Website: www.thetowermovie2013.com

Main cast: Seol Kyung-gu, Son Ye-jin, Kim Sang-gyeong, Kim In-gwon, Do Ji-han, Lee Han-wui, Kim Sung-oh, Song Jae-ho, Park Cheol-min Cha In-pyo

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