There's something to be said for anthologies, in the way the shortened segments end their stories before the expectation gets too big that it inevitably disappoints half or more of the audience. This goes double for a movie like 'Doomsday Book,' which takes the topic of the end of the world and approaches it with a touch of humanity three times over – which seems like a real departure since the notion seems to be on the tip of everyone's tongue, considering the whole 2012 prophecy (and movie) debacle, and the insistence of popular media (i.e. movies, books and seemingly every other video game in existence) to depict the world coming to some kind of cataclysmic or gradually more horrifying end where a lone survivor or small group has to make it through the crumbling facades of ruined cities and deal with hordes of zombies/mutants/annoyingly aggressive alpha-males in order to find some semblance of order and normalcy.
At any rate, there are certain occasions where film or television approaches the end of humankind with something more than the business end of a shotgun, or endless close-ups of glowering faces and depressing nihilism. Not that there isn't a place for that kind of thing (obviously, people love it), but come on – there's got to be a market for a lighter touch in addition to all of that scowling, right? Well, to a certain extent, 'Doomsday Book' gives it a fair shot; directors Kim Ji-woon ('I Saw the Devil') and Yim Pil-sung manage to infuse three end-of-the-world scenarios with something we would call "life," or a certain liveliness – even as the inference in the stories is that Earth may soon to be, or already is bereft of such a thing.
Initially planned as a three-story omnibus that would include the contributions from Kim Ji-Woon and Yim Pil-sung, along with a segment from Han Jae-rim, the film faced some financial issues before all three segments could be shot – which resulted in Yim Pil-sung returning to direct the third story, with Kim along in a special "guest director" capacity. At any rate, the end product was 'Doomsday Book' – which contained three different takes on humanity as we know it being irrevocably changed in 'Brave New World,' 'Heavenly Creature' and 'Happy Birthday.'
Yim Pil-sung bookends the feature with 'Brave New World' and 'Happy Birthday'; two tales that employ more of a satirical, highly metaphorical means of getting their point across. Meanwhile, Kim Ji-woon delivers what is clearly intended to be the film's centerpiece with the poignant and mysterious entry, 'Heavenly Creature.' Interestingly enough, Kim's entry is also the one that may have a more difficult time associating itself with the concept of doomsday, as it stands more as a parable on the perils of technology, than it does with what many audiences would associate with a typical end-of-the-world scenario.
'Brave New World' is something of a run-of-the-mill zombie tale with a Biblical allegory at its core (no pun intended for those who've seen it), about a pair of doomed lovers' consumption of tainted meat that induces a zombie outbreak. 'Happy Birthday' is the outright funniest of the three entries, but also thematically the weakest. While both of Yim's entries offer plenty of humor and superficial commentary on consumerism, politics and the media, they fail to deliver much in the way of meaning behind the critiques that would have offered genuine payoff to their more enjoyable set ups.
Most of the film's marketing (and certainly it's DVD and Blu-ray cover) is centered on Kim's unsettling tale of a lonely robotics technician called to a Buddhist temple in order to help determine whether a robot, dubbed In-Myung by fellow monks, has somehow achieved enlightenment, or if it's simply glitch in the robot's system. 'Heavenly Creature' asks the difficult question of whether or not the life many imbue their inanimate objects with also deems them worthy of a soul – and, should they be able to think and perceive of themselves as beings (as In-Myung is), are they not also inclined to be spiritual beings filled with unanswerable questions and existential dread?
'Heavenly Creature' is not only a departure from the other two stories in terms of its concept, but it's wildly different in style, as well. Kim has delivered a melancholy tale that feels more fully realized as a legitimate story, and one that could be successfully expanded upon, as In-Myung, in all his Christopher Cunningham-inspired glory, perhaps ironically becomes the most unforgettable character that 'Doomsday Book' has to offer.
While all of the stories are certainly entertaining in their own unique way, together they fail to be completely successful in creating a truly synergistic experience within the context of the film's larger framework, or in conveying the notion of where humankind's endless pursuit of progression will eventually take the species. On a very basic, visceral and fundamentally entertaining level, 'Doomsday Book' offers answers to its questions simply by asking more questions, and utilizing the short-story/anthology premise to avoid coming to any real conclusions (a process that again, only seems to work with in the more philosophical tale of 'Heavenly Creature').
In the end, this may actually be the most satisfying method of delivering these tales, but the uneven nature of each story in comparison to one another makes the entire collection feel off. It's like when a band releases an EP, and one song is clearly a hit, while the other two (or more) will only find traction amongst a select segment of the band's already established fanbase.Still, 'Doomsday Book' shows a great deal of ambition and forward thinking, which gives one pause in judging it too harshly. On one hand, for the film to not show any obvious signs of the funding issues that temporarily plagued it is quite an impressive feat. However, it remains difficult to not look at the distinctly different stories contained within the entire structure and see how disparate they truly are. In a way, it is the success of 'Heavenly Creature' that works to undermine the success of the feature as a whole.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Doomsday Book' comes from Well Go Entertainment in a standard case with a slipcover featuring the same image as the Blu-ray's insert. This is a 25GB Blu-ray disc that does not contain any special features beyond a few previews and the trailer for the feature.
Not surprisingly, the picture on 'Doomsday Book,' complete with its 1080p AVC-encoded transfer, is quite good. The image is sharp and detailed, with plenty of variance in color and tone throughout each of the three separate stories. Fine detail is most noticeable in close-ups, such as the shot of Seung-beom Ryu in 'Brave New World,' as the infection from the tainted meat begins to completely overtake him. The same can be said for the other two segments as well, especially since In-Myung's moving parts are clearly visible and highly detailed throughout 'Heavenly Creature.'
Textures are noticeable in every frame, which is just another aspect granting the image remarkable depth. Clothing, hair and even a layer of partially melted snow on the ground all ring true with remarkable clarity that makes 'Doomsday Book' look as good as it does. Additionally, blacks are nice and dark, but maintain proper delineation in even the darkest of scenes, so that the main focus is never lost in the frame, or overtaken by uneven color.
That being said, there are a few short moments where some noticeable banding seems to take place, but it is never much of a distraction, nor does it mar what is ultimately a fine and detailed image. It's impressive that these two directors were able to make three separate shorts, which so closely resemble one another in terms of tone and image quality. There is a single moment in 'Brave New World' where the image has clearly undergone some deliberate color manipulation, but that actually works to the short's benefit and doesn’t disrupt the overall cleanliness of the final product.
The disc contains a Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that quite ably manages both the more raucous elements of 'Brave New World' and to a lesser extent, 'Happy Birthday,' but it also deftly handles the less aggressive, more introspective, and dialogue heavy moments of 'Heavenly Creature.'
Both of Yim Pil-sung's segments utilize the surround sound to the greatest effect. Obviously, any time you get hordes of zombies piling up in the street, searching for flesh, or generally causing some kind of undead ruckus, you want your sound system to create a truly immersive effect, and the lossless mix on 'Doomsday Book' manages to do just that. Similarly, LFE effects are present during certain portions of 'Happy Birthday,' which add some much needed impact to the story. Overall, however, the disc best manages the dialogue, which is always easily heard, clean and crisp – even the slightly somnolent tone of In-Myung.
This mix does everything 'Doomsday Book' could ask of it – which is saying something since the film bounces all over the place in terms of story. Most impressive is the way the audio track manages to handle voice-over, with sound effects and music, without anything sounding unbalanced, or getting lost in the shuffle. Technically speaking, the sound is as good, if not better, than the image quality here.
Unfortunately, 'Doomsday Book' doesn't come with any sort of supplements or special features beyond the standard inclusion of the theatrical trailer. Some behind the scenes featurettes would have been nice, especially if they'd gotten into the creation of In-Myung and detailed what amount of the robot was a practical effect, and how much (if any) was enhanced by CGI. There is a great deal of information fans would certainly like more insight on, which makes it a shame nothing of the sort was able to come together on this disc.
When thinking about 'Doomsday Book,' take into consideration another recent anthology film, 'Tokyo!' That film also had some great, but not necessarily cohesive segments, anchored by one unforgettable work, 'Merde,' by 'Holy Motors' director Leos Carax. Of course neither film is necessarily required to pull together the segments into something resembling a throughline, or concept, but that sort of thing always seems to enhance one's opinion when the final product is looked at as a whole. In that regard, 'Doomsday' does manage to achieve a feeling of interconnectedness, but the separation of the three segments ultimately keeps it from becoming as strong as the filmmakers and producers had likely hoped. There's a lot to like about this anthology: the insightful haunting nature of 'Heavenly Creature' and the funnier, satirical elements of 'Brave New World' and 'Happy Birthday' are all pleasurable in their own way; they just don't add up to a magnificent whole. Still, considering the quality of the image and audio, and the fact that it just may have something for everyone, this film is worth a look.