Let us sacrifice our today so that our children can have a better tomorrow….

The safest nuclear power or energy policy is to realize ‘zero’ nuclear power

Naota Kan

Pandora (2016)
Tragedy, Thriller
Written by
Directed by
Country of Origin
 South Korea
136 minutes 

oh! … brief

 A seemingly ordinary town close to the city Busan starts to grow when a nuclear power plant is built offers the city’s citizens stable employment. One of the power plant’s employees is technician Jae-hyuk, continues to work there despite having lost his father and brother to radiation exposure. One day an earthquake causes a catastrophe for the power plant, mostly because the government and power plant management and executives have ignored basic maintenance and care of the facility.

With disaster imminent due to significant damage to the plant, Jae-hyuk and his coworkers are forced to try and do patchwork repairs to fix the immediate problem areas. This exposes Jae-hyuk and his coworkers to radiation. When the later call comes for volunteers those already exposed and likely to perish from the exposure to radiation, volunteer to go back down and fix the crack in the roof/wall.

oh! … talks drama

Nuclear power will always be a controversial topic – the sentiments of government leaders differ when weighing in on the topic, but we, citizens of the world must never forget Chernobyl (Ukraine) or Fukushima (Japan) or even Three Mile Island (US). Many countries have phased out already or are in the process of phasing out nuclear plants, South Korea and Canada are not among those. I mention Canada because that is where I currently live and South Korea because this film comes from South Korea. The South Korean government already manages 24 nuclear plants in nine cities across the country and is planning a further 10 to be built.

This disaster film, written and directed by Park Jung-woo, is one of many in the South Korean film industry, there are even a few disaster dramas to choose from which makes me believe that this genre might be in vogue at the moment. Where Park Jung-woo and other directors of disaster themed films differ, is that Park Jung-woo is unafraid to create a biting illustration of government malfeasance and inadequacy. Pandora’s depiction of the devastating impact of a nuclear disaster is frighteningly realistic and reminded me of the situation with the Fukushima plant. The film seamlessly combines the two ideas that potential for disaster increases when there are discord and political intrigue involved and that natural disasters cannot be controlled by humans and have the potential to be far more damaging when combined with corruption and negligence. It’s a bold statement by Park Jung-woo but it’s perhaps the strongest reflection we’ve seen to date.

As the writer of the screenplay, Park Jung-woo shared a keen and acutely cynical social conscience critique with the audience. He wrote an exceptionally haunting tale of citizens in a desperate situation where they are doomed, but with the inspirational message that sacrifice can be for the greater good of all mankind. Park Jung-woo’s writing is dogged and he is unintimidated in depicting the reality of a nuclear incident, which only heightens certain elements of the film further and in his role as a director he doesn’t have to whitewash the visuals.

I admire that Park Jung-woo’s screenplay focuses itself firmly on the human elements, tracing the lives of tight-knit everyday folk, with the characters fleshed out to reveal their strengths and weaknesses. Park Jung-woo is a master storyteller and it shows both in his writing and in his directing! Oh, to be a fly on the wall for his next big production! His tone for this masterpiece is subdued, grim, encumbered with the circumstance which makes it intense and disquieting. Whether through his writing or through the aesthetics he captures in the camera, he never shied away from displaying the horror of radiation in exacting detail – the blisters to the blood and the spewing up of blood and stomach contents, while hard to watch is visually accurate.

And while the radiation horrors unfold at the plant, Park Jung-woo detailed a believable evacuation of the city’s people – panic and chaos ensue. The screenplay captures relentless criticism of the government, the ruling elite, in particular, the Prime Minister who shows little concern for the loss of life, the ineffective but kind-hearted President. Park Jung-woo uses all these nuanced performances to draw the line between ordinary folk and those with power and also to show quite clearly just how corrupt and dictatorial governments can be. While the political sentiments or criticism are quite clearly depicted the film is balanced and never descends into a political sermon. To say that Pandora is pretty hard hitting towards government officials would not be an understatement and it’s so good to see Park Jung-woo’s return to the industry after a hiatus is as feisty as ever!

As much as I was remarkably impressed with the story, the writing of the screenplay and subsequent narration, I was equally impressed with how the film evolved visually. Thanks to the expertise of Choi Young-hwan and the editing skills of Park Gok-ji the film is a breathtaking even in the midst of all the horror.

Obviously, there was an extensive amount of effects and CGI involved in the project and it was apparently carried out by some of South Korea’s best in the industry, who also created the best nuclear plant set.

One of the defining moments for me in the film is the fleeing rats and birds as the earthquake is about to occur. Uncanny how animals know when disaster is about to strike and they start to flee in large numbers. I think that this was reflected in the visual narrative was just as important as the words ‘earthquake’ being spoken were. These are the attention to detail that I so like of Park Jung-woo.

I also like Park Jung-woo’s visual portrayal of the plant elites locking up and refusing to allow their workers to leave, exposing them to further radiation, but also endangering their lives in the process. It was interesting to watch the topple-down effect and hierarchy and the value placed on the lives of the technicians versus management. Mind-boggling that these ideologies still exist in the world today, but they do, whether in South Korea or in Canada. And I relished the fact that Park Jung-woo’s heroes were rule breakers – the bus hijacker, the secretary who slips a report about the plant to the President, the demoted plant worker who penned the report etc., and he captures their performances in contrast to those of characters like the callous Prime Minister, advisors to the President etc.

You have to watch this film to appreciate the coming together of the written and visual narrative with many of the better scenes for this film taken on the set of the plant. Having written that I also think that the cameras captured the chaotic evacuation attempts and subsequent chaos really well, in particular, the histrionics played out by the females.

Wardrobe, of course, was fairly straightforward for the plant workers and I imagine that not a lot of money was spent for the costumes of those working outside the plant. But, I do suspect that an awful lot of money was spent on props and vehicles.

The accompanying musical score or soundtrack was created by Jo Yeong-wook and is currently not available online.

The cast for this film includes some popular South Korean actors and actresses.

Kim Nam-gil played the protagonist role of Jae Hyuk who ultimately sacrifices himself to save the countless numbers evacuating the city. I wasn’t expecting this character to become the film’s hero, but I watched the character develop over time and understood that he was the best viable volunteer given his background and knowledge of explosives. Kim Nam-gil doesn’t immediately strike as a hero-type mostly because of his extremely understated performance. He certainly isn’t the character giving off inspirational speeches or delivering monologues, his interpretation instead gives us a muted, somewhat frustrated man who feels the world is living behind him. Kim Nam-gil expresses the frustration of his character vocally and physically – emoting well and balancing the right amount of anger and annoyance at his situation. The performance was right on the money and heartfelt.

Pyung-sub, an engineer also working at the plant was played by Jung Jin-young and he gives a great performance as the man on the ground most concerned about the conditions and the fact that government aren’t making rational ones regarding evacuation and fixing the nuclear plant. I enjoyed Jung Jin-young in this role and seeing him in the film has given me a different perspective on his acting abilities. I was a little biased before I guess.

The Prime Minister for this film is played by Lee Kyoung-young who has had a prolific career in the drama and film industry in South Korea and has won many awards. I love this guy! And his acting skills came out in full force as the unlikeable and corrupt government official. Absolutely flawless performance once again!

Mr Kong, father to a number of the technicians stuck inside with Jae-hyuk and a former plant worker himself was played by Kang Shin-il. In a supporting role this actor continues to deliver stellar performances, but, now I want to see him in a larger role – maybe the second lead in something so I’m guessing I’m going to have to become a script or screenplay writer because the industry in South Korea is very young and the older you are as an actor or actress the more mundane the roles and the less air time you get. At least that’s my opinion. Some older actors, (hey! I’m female), could have really great careers if the scripts and screenplays were expanded to appeal to an older generation. Anyway, Kang Shin-il is a fine actor and he gives a great performance in this film.

Kim Myung-min played the ill-fated President of South Korea and I found that his performance was in-between for me. I found sometimes he was flat, but I’m not sure if that was what he intended, it wasn’t the cool, calm, collected sort of flat it was flat as in there’s nobody home kind of flat. But he wasn’t always like that, so maybe I misunderstood his emotions or the sentiments behind the lack of emotion. I know Kim Myung-min to be quite the progressive actor so it was unusual for me. He could have done a better job, perhaps, but maybe his character was specifically written to be so flawed.

oh! … sidekicks

For this film, the female roles took a backseat and the males shone in what was a male-dominant production.

Kim Joo-hyun played Yeon-joo,  Jae-hyuk’s girlfriend. I enjoyed watching Kim Joo-hyun play the bossy girlfriend I thought her performance was fairly accurate to someone dating what some might see as a bit of a loser-type guy.

One of my favourite actresses, now deceased has always been Kim Young-Ae and in Pandora, she was on top of her game as Mrs Suk. As an actress, Kim Young-Ae has developed a knack for delivering characters that are fraught with the histrionics so prevalent in South Korean drama and sometimes film. She was one of the best and I will miss her terribly! As Mrs Suk, she was just perfect! Her loud over the top and expressive voice really brought home the anxiety and stress of evacuating and then finding out your son are about to sacrifice himself. As usual, Kim Young-Ae’s interpretation was spot on!

oh! … that’s a wrap

I enjoyed this film, I found the relevance given the situation between the US and North Korea, concerning. I did not know prior to watching this film that South Korea had so many nuclear plants. That is a cause for concern. At the very least this film will have sparked some conversation around the safety and efficacy of our reliance on nuclear energy to produce heat and energy for economic and household purposes.

I don’t think I would watch this again, but I do recommend it to anyone interested in disaster, tragedy or thriller type of films.

oh! … tidbits

This is the first Korean film to be pre-sold to Netflix.

oh! … soundtrack

This soundtrack is currently not yet available online. Check back soon!

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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