The Tower (2012)
Kim Ji-hoon's The Tower is an indirect remake of John Guillermin's 1974 disaster movie, The Towering Inferno. The plot centres on a fire that breaks out in a luxury skyscraper in central Seoul on Christmas Eve. However the director manages to put a very modern spin on the story while maintaining the human drama you would expect from such a genre movie. It’s also apparent that the events of 9/11 have had an influence on the narrative; something that some critics have taken umbrage at. Yet these parallels do not extend beyond the superficial and there is certainly no attempt at any wider commentary on that real life tragedy.
The cultural and social differences between US and South Korean cinema are very apparent in The Tower. The first act of the movie has a light and frivolous tone, as we meet the cast of characters. For example, Junior cook Young-cheol (Jeon Bae-soo) hides an engagement ring for his girlfriend within an ice cream, which is inadvertently eaten by his manager. Friction between one of the wealthy residents and the cleaner also highlight the rather rigid class divide within South Korean society. However despite these nominal cultural differences there are many universal themes in The Tower that make the film accessible to those with an open mind.
The Tower features some visually arresting set pieces and the physical and visual effects are of a high standard. The two burning towers are linked via a glass walkway that inevitably has to be crossed. This naturally occurs at a point when the structure is close to collapse, yet despite being a very contrived scene it is quite tense and well handled. The director also strikes the right balance between suspense and some of the more horrific aspects you would associate with a fire. Stuntmen and women are set alight and blasted through windows. Panicking staff are cooked alive in an elevator stuck in the lift shaft. Sundry extras are crushed or impaled by failing masonry. Yet none of this carnage is dwelt on excessively.
As with the The Towering Inferno, no cliché is left unturned and the scientific aspects of the plot are flawed and do not stand up to close scrutiny. The Mayor is mainly concerned about rescuing the building richest residents (I was surprised it wasn't an election year). The Director of the company that owns the tower is happy to take risks just to satisfy the shareholders. Captain Kang Young-ki (Sol Kyung-gu) of the Fire Department is estranged from his wife. Plus the most common solution to the various firefighting problems that arise is to simply blow something up. However it really wouldn't be a disaster movie without these melodramatic plot indulgences.
The Tower is by no means an outstanding movie but it is certainly entertaining. The South Korean perspective affords an interesting and alternative window onto familiar cinematic territory. The central characters although somewhat formulaic are likeable and the action scenes are enthralling. As long as you do not have an aversion to reading curiously translated subtitles or are an inherent xenophobe, then The Tower can offer two hours of spectacle and entertainment.