NATURAL CITY

3.5 Stars
Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 113 minutes
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What can you say about a loose Korean remake of “Blade Runner” which is now itself in the process of being remade into an American film? One thing: Don’t think of “Blade Runner” when watching it. Otherwise you’ll just get confused and frustrated. This movie’s theme isn’t about how robots are becoming human, but about how humans are becoming robots. Totally different idea and if you let yourself forget that, you’re apt to lose the subtlety presented.

The year is 2080. A war occurred long ago and the remnants of it are still evident in this nameless city on the ocean. In a leap of biomechanical technology it is now possible to create cyborgs that are indistinguishable from human beings. Their only difference is a 3 year lifespan and a microchip implanted in their brain. These cyborgs are used for all kinds of lower manual labor. Female cyborgs are called, not inappropriately, “dolls”.

The film opens with a group of combat cyborgs storming the Neucom Medical Research facility. One of them, called Cyper, steals DNA information and sends it to an unknown party before being seemingly killed by the MP’s sent to stop it.

Ji-Tae Yu plays R, one of those same MP’s sent to the Neucom building. He’s loud and brash and not a very nice guy. In fact, he’s a giant asshole who prefers to let his fellow soldiers die rather than shoot the cyborgs in the head (the only way to truly kill them) so he can steal their chips and sell them on the black market.

What propels our tale is that R is in love with a cyborg named Ria who has only 3 days left to live. In the American remake I’m sure this will be milked for all the tension possible, but the filmmakers here know better. Ria has all the personality of a present day sex toy, she’s a machine and her love is as artificial as her mind. If R loves Ria, it’s because she’s an object that won’t challenge his big fragile ego. Not for any kind of true affection on his part.

We are then introduced to a prostitute named Cyon, played by Jae-un Lee. She is easily the best part of the movie, looking almost exactly like a cover girl from Heavy Metal magazine. We meet her as she buries her father’s ashes with a microchip from a cyborg. Seems that dad was in love with a machine and she’s quite bitter to have to bury him with his silicone girlfriend.

The question presented throughout the film, and one, which Cyon wrestles with is: Are we so shallow that we prefer the love of a machine to that of a human? I think we already know the answer. Just look around. How many people own cats or dogs. Simple creatures who love us and never need a hug or advice or complex interaction. Granted a puppy or kitties affection is real, unlike that of a machine, but it’s the need that we have for unconditional love that’s telling. R needs Ria because she doesn’t get mad when he tries to hit her. She doesn’t talk back to him or contradict him. She’s never sad and never cries. All she does is smile and nod and always agree with everything he says. She’s a mirror to his desires.

When the film stumbles, it’s because the plot is muddled. It’s too kinetic to stop for one second and let us catch our breath. It’s in too much of a hurry to bother with fleshing out the themes I’ve outlined and make us understand what the hell we’re supposed to be watching. After about an hour you’re getting the feeling that people in Korea, especially those who made this film, have shrines to Jerry Bruckheimer. Nonetheless, it works better than it should and the message gets through eventually.

If you have the patience for a lot of energy but little payoff, this can be a rewarding film. Otherwise, you’ll come out wondering what the hell it was all about. In a way, this is appropriate. Audiences felt the exact same way about “Blade Runner” when it came out in 1982.



Posted on July 16, 2004 in Reviews by
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