Tuesday, August 27, 2013

It Came From The Video Store: The Tower

The Tower is a 2012 disaster movie from South Korea, of all places. It's very heavily inspired by 1974's The Towering Inferno. In fact it's pretty much a remake. But it's a darn good remake.

Oddly enough The Towering Inferno was based on two very similar novels, one called The Tower and the other The Glass Inferno. Confused yet?

The Tower has everything a good disaster movie needs: a cross section of cardboard thin characters, each with one defining trait, truckloads of melodrama, deadly situations, far-fetched rescues and lots and lots of explosions. What more could you ask for?

Forget what the cover above says about it being "part Die Hard." I have no idea why it says such a thing. Other than the Christmas Eve setting, the two films have absolutely nothing in common. There are no terrorists or hostage situations anywhere in The Tower, nor any "one man against an army of villains" scenario.

To date the film's grossed over $35 million in South Korea, which may not sound like much to us here in America, but trust me, over there it's huge.


The Plot:
It's Christmas Eve and the brand spankin' new luxury Sky Tower complex (which despite what it looks like in the poster, consists of two towers) is about to open in downtown Seoul. During the big grand opening celebration, a helicopter crashes into one of the towers, igniting a blaze on an upper floor. The fire department is called in but can do little to stop the blaze due to its lofty location. A group of survivors attempts to find a way down to the ground while avoiding flames, explosions and collapsing floors.

Engineers discover that if left unchecked, the flaming tower will collapse and take down the other tower with it. It's decided the burning tower must be imploded to save the complex. Will the survivors make it out before the building collapses?

• The film follows The Towering Inferno template with razor-sharp precision:

• The disaster begins during the grand opening party of the tower.

• The film features a cross section of humanity, from high society dignitaries to blue collar workers.

• Cost-cutting by greedy contractors results in the safety problems.

• An accident starts a fire in one of the towers.

• The fire department is called in, but can do little to stop the blaze due to the building's height.
• The head firefighter teams up with a civilian familiar with the building.

• Panicked guests overwhelm the rescue efforts which leads to disaster. 
• Water tanks are detonated to put out the fire. 
• Several times in the film a deadly serious set piece was immediately followed by near slapstick comedy, which was a little jarring. Most of this over the top humor involved the clumsy young chef & his girlfriend, and the Korean holy rollers (believe it or not there are a lot of Presbyterians in Korea).

I'm chalking this up to a cultural differences. I think it's just the way South Korean movies (and Asian movies in general) work.

• The Sky Tower complex consists of two identical buildings connected by an upper floor skybridge. So why's the movie called The Tower? Wouldn't The Towers be more apt? Maybe something got lost in translation.

• The Tower features some jaw-droppingly realistic and impressive CGI effects. I admit I'm not very familiar with the Seoul skyline, so I just assumed the twin Sky Towers were actual buildings. I was shocked to learn they were completely computer generated (with a few model shots thrown in here and there)!

The film opens with a helicopter shot of the twin Sky Towers and as the camera flies around the buildings, the surrounding city is reflected in every single window. They even got all the little imperfections in the glass right! Everything looked completely real. Kudos to the effects team!

• Amazingly the film was made for the equivalent of $9.3 million dollars. It looks like it cost at least ten times that. I guess money goes farther in South Korea?

• Near the end of the film it's determined that the burning tower has to be imploded in order to save the other one. The implosion scenes were eerily similar to the images of 9/11 seared into every American's brain.

I'm sure there'll be some viewers out there who'll cry "Too soon!" but I don't think the filmmakers meant to sully the memory of 9/11. Thanks to that day every American is all too aware of how a skyscraper looks when it collapses, and the effects team was simply copying that look.

• The Tower is easily as good or better than any summer blockbuster churned out by Hollywood this summer. There's no reason it couldn't be shown as is in American theaters. It'll never happen though, as American audiences have no patience with subtitles and Hollywood executives' balls fell off long ago and they're leery about releasing films with no recognizable stars. Look for an American remake any day now!

• Note to my local video store, who taped "WARNING! THIS MOVIE IS DUBBED!" signs on every DVD case of the film: This movie is not dubbed. It is subtitled. C'mon guys, you're a video store! There's no reason you shouldn't know the difference.

The Tower is a slick, action packed popcorn movie that could give Hollywood a run for its money. I give it a B.

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