J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

DC K-Cinema: The Tower

It is a Christmas movie, just like Die Hard, but if you think the Nakatomi Plaza’s office party was a blast, you should see how they celebrate at the exclusive Tower Sky condo complex. Fire Captain Kang Young-ki and his men will also be invited. Kim Ji-hoon gets his Irwin Allen on in The Tower (trailer here), which screens this week as part of the Washington, DC Korean Cultural Center’s monthly K-Cinema series.

Tower Sky consists of two twin skyscrapers, making certain face-palmingly awkward parallels to the World Trade Center unavoidable. Perhaps the two towers were an attempt by screenwriters Kim Sang-don and Heo Jun-seok to differentiate the film from its transparent inspiration, The Towering Inferno. Regardless, it is something you just have to get past. Fortunately, Kim Ji-hoon takes his time, introducing us to the appealing central characters: Lee Dae-ho the operations manager for Tower Sky, his cherubic daughter Ha-na, and Seo Yoon-hee, the buildings’ food services director, whom he has long carried a torch.

Before the Christmas party, Lee warned the management too much water had been diverted from the sprinkler system. Seo subsequently alerted them the restaurants had insufficient ventilation. Someone also vaguely cautioned about possible updrafts when the helicopters were scheduled to drop the man-made snow. Of course, you can add these things together and get a massive skyscraper inferno, which is exactly what happens. Eventually, Lee will join forces with Kang, much like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, in hopes of saving Ha-na and Seo. Unfortunately, the developer’s perverse policies and practices cause unnecessary complications at every turn.

Kim Ji-hoon sure can crash helicopters and blow-up buildings. The effects look great, even three years later (almost three decades in SFX time). The fire’s cause-and-effect details also seem pretty logical, at least during the heat of the film. Many of the buildings’ residents and staff are essentially stock characters, but this is the sort of film that can get away with that, for the sake of saving time. Obviously, the reason to see The Tower is to watch the firefighting dramatics, one hundred twenty stories in the air.

Still, Kim Sang-kyung, Son Ye-jin, and Jo Min-ah are all earnestly endearing as Lee, Seo, and Ha-na. They will make a ridiculously cute family if they can survive. On the plus side, the treatment of Lee Han-wi Elder Kim, the Evangelical lottery winner evolves in intriguing ways. Initially, he is portrayed in rather stereotypical terms, but his faith starts to give strength to the skeptical FD Sgt. Oh. Plus, Ahn Sung-ki adds his usual gravitas as the Yeoido station chief.

Less edifying are the depictions of the Fire Department Chief and Building Chairman, which are clearly intended to stoke class resentments. The idea that the Fire Department would have a “priority” rescue list is utterly laughable. No government bureaucrat would risk the potential media firestorm to save a few fat cats.


Regardless, The Tower is more massive than Backdraft when it comes to blazing effects. It also delivers plenty of heroism, in a way that will resonate for firefighter boosters. It stands up alongside Derek Kwok’s As the Lights Go Out, even though Sol Kyung-gu’s moody Kang is no match for Simon Yam, Hu Jun, or Nick Tse. With its family themes, it is a good Christmas programming choice, but the mortality rate of name characters will be way too high for little ones. Recommended for disaster movie fans, The Tower screens this coming Thursday (12/17) at the Korean Cultural Center in DC.

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