The London East Asia Film Festival recently concluded with the highly anticipated UK premiere of “Concrete Utopia.” Directed by Um Tae-hwa, this South Korean film has been submitted as Korea’s entry for the Best International Feature Film category at the 2024 Oscars. With its thought-provoking themes and remarkable performances, “Concrete Utopia” left a lasting impression on the audience.
“Concrete Utopia” takes us on a dystopian journey following a devastating earthquake in South Korea. The film captures the aftermath of this catastrophe through the eyes of a young couple, Ming-seong (played by Park Seo-joon) and (Park Bo-young). As they wake up to a world completely transformed, the once familiar landscape becomes a dark and dangerous place of survival.
Director Um Tae-hwa challenges the conventional disaster film genre by providing a deeper exploration of the human experience in extreme circumstances. In an interview, Um emphasized that “Concrete Utopia” should be seen as an apocalyptic film rather than a disaster film. His intention was to delve into the characters’ backstories and showcase their evolution in response to the crisis.
One of the film’s striking aspects is its portrayal of social hierarchies and the fragility of communities in times of crisis. In the high-rise where the protagonists reside, neighbors quickly abandon any sense of compassion, prioritizing their own survival at the expense of others. This depiction sheds light on the innate human instinct for self-preservation, even if it means sacrificing others in the process.
Layers of Complexity in Character Development
Actress Park Bo-young, who plays the character Park, shared her insights on the transformation her character undergoes throughout the film. Park evolves from passivity to active participation as she witnesses the drastic change in her husband’s behavior due to the apocalyptic event. This shift adds depth to the overall narrative, as it raises questions about the essential nature of humanity and the choices we make in challenging circumstances.
Director Um Tae-hwa emphasizes the multidimensionality of his characters, highlighting that no one is entirely good or evil in the film. This storytelling approach aims to create empathy and understanding towards each character’s choices. The film presents ordinary people faced with extraordinary circumstances, forcing them to make decisions to protect themselves. These moral dilemmas provoke the audience to question the notions of right and wrong and consider the consequences of each choice.
In discussing his artistic vision, Director Um Tae-hwa reveals his intention to gradually unfold the characters’ stories throughout the film. This deliberate pacing ensures a seamless flow of information without overpowering the plot. By focusing on the characters’ humanity rather than gratuitous disaster scenes, Um successfully invites the audience to reflect on the conventions of the genre and the underlying societal issues.
“Concrete Utopia” is a film that lingers in the mind long after the credits roll. Its exploration of survival, societal hierarchies, and moral choices makes it both thought-provoking and haunting. Director Um Tae-hwa’s vision, combined with outstanding performances from the cast, particularly Lee Byung-hun as the charismatic leader, creates a compelling cinematic experience that challenges the viewer’s perspective on disaster narratives.