“Concrete Utopia” is anything but a utopia
We’re no strangers to the dystopian/apocalyptic genre. We grew up reading The Hunger Games, have debated what we’d do if we were ever on The Purge and reference Mad Max: Fury Road every other Halloween. And while I’m not sure what it is about end-of-the-world/alternate world fiction that has everyone so interested, Concrete Utopia is the latest proof that it’s here to stay.
In the film, the world is reduced by a massive earthquake, but there’s one apartment in Seoul called the Hwang Gung Apartments that has somehow kept itself upright. In the midst of rubble and ashes, the apartment and its residents keep to their normal-as-normal-can-be lives.
Naturally, even the non-resident survivors flock to Hwang Gung for shelter against the South Korean winter. But due to limitations on food, water and space, the original residents take it upon themselves to push out the outsiders and barricade themselves in.
Min-seong (Park Seo-joon) and Myeong-hwa (Park Bo-young) are a couple that live in the Hwang Gung Apartments when the earthquake strikes. They’re young and idealistic, though a little passive. As their apartment complex goes under lockdown against the rest of South Korea, Min-seong takes up arms with a few other choice men—led by Young-tak (Lee Byung-hun), a mysterious neighbor from the ninth floor.
Concrete Utopia isn’t a story about survival—at least, not exactly. It’s a look at what humanity might do when pushed to the brink of desperation, when the end is a little close for comfort. Some will prefer isolation, others will cry out at the injustice, some will continue to look out for the less fortunate, and others will thrive in a way they never did when the world wasn’t broken.
And it’s in this theme that the film really comes through. It provides such a realistic portrayal of human emotion and reaction when faced with something so drastic. A woman who is all for kicking everyone out until it backfires on her. A leader who will do everything necessary but hides his own secrets. A man who is just trying to protect himself and his wife—that young wife who still believes that everyone should be treated justly. And, of course, there are the outsiders: angry, desperate, afraid.
Concrete Utopia is anything but a utopia—but that depends on who you’re asking. Whatever your stand, the magic of the film is that it takes its audience through the different logical standpoints and emotional rollercoasters. You’re stuck agreeing with one person, before another makes an undeniably good point. Would you be passively in the background, happy that you’re alive? Would you take more than you need just because you “earned” it? Would you turn your back on others for your own security?
It’s your choice.
“Concrete Utopia” opens in Philippine theaters on September 20, with sneak previews in select cinemas on September 11 and 12. Rated R13.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver