Fabricated city (2017): Introduction to Korean movies
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It’s “Fabricated” and not a “Virtual Reality” City
In many ways, this movie, ”Fabricated city” (2017), starring actor Ji Chang-wook and actress Shim Eun-kyung can be misleading in what it is. This is especially true for its advertisement which vaguely implies this is a movie about “virtual reality” or at least “online gaming”. In other words, something like “Gamer” (2009) starring Gerard Butler or the “Matrix” (1999). But sadly …this movie not a “boy playing a virtual reality game” movie! It is not even a movie about “online gaming”.
The movie introduces the protagonist--- played by Ji Chang-wook --- playing one of the many “counter strike” clones---online team based modern military shooter game--- with his online gaming clan members. Rather than showing the protagonist sitting in front of the glowing monitor eating Cheetos, the movie chooses to “artistically” portray this rather boring and now mundane activity as a Michael Bay movie with real life actors and huge explosives. You know “The Rock” (1996). However, this depiction has no relevance to the rest of the movie. It is just introducing characters and their personality traits to the audience. The rest of the movie is not an orgy of guns and explosive.
The plot of the movie surrounds the protagonist played by actor Ji Chang-wook trying to clear his name and bring down a secret organization --- led by a crazy comic book type villain---that framed him for a murder he did not committed or even had known the victim. Since this is almost an “Impossible Mission”, he has to team up with his “odd ball” gaming friends and get into wacky shenanigans in order to take the down villain and the “Fabricated” reality built upon lies.
So, you get the picture. What “Fabricated City” (2017), at its core, is …“Sneakers” (1992) starring Robert Redford and Ben Kingsley. It is a team based techno heist movie. We’ve seen a tone of movies of this kind since 1992. In fact, it has becomes its own subgenre at this point with its own established formula. “Fabricated City” (2017) doesn’t improve on the standard formula although it tries combine it with other established movie genres as seen with the “gamer” stuff. This is where the problem with the movie starts. It is all over the place in terms of tone and feels fragmented as if several different movies were awkwardly combined into a single narrative.
The different movies in one
There is your standard prison movie in which a newcomer has to adapt and grow in prison with the help of a mysterious prison mentor and confront the inmate boss. As a side note, actor Ji Chang-wook doesn’t have the acting range to handle this type of character such that I didn’t mind the character got beat up all the time. Another movie is “The Fugitive” (1993) --- Harrison Ford movie –-- like escape convict looking for the “one armed” man movie. Sadly, no Tommy Lee Jones equivalent. That would have made it the far better. With the villain’s part of the movie, it comes off as a weird comic book noir comedy vibe to it with its dark tone and ridiculous characters. The actual evil plan would make any TV crime show blush because of the over the top craziness of the scheme. And the charters are just weird.
At its ---“Fabricated City” (2017)---core, there is the team based techno heist movie. This movie is very upbeat and funny with oddball characters. While none of the characters get the required development or screen time the actors’ performances deserve, seeing them on screen is pleasant. Also there is a lot of wacky gadgets that none of these characters should be able to have with their budgets. Also, they basically get with domestic terrorism. So, you get the tone of this movie.
To the end, the movie becomes a Tom Cruise “Mission Impossible” movie but directed by Michael Bay. Not the second one. The team is does their “techno” thing but the focus is on the protagonist’s --- Tom Cruise like --- superhuman/agent action sequences that just ignore the fact that he’s neither a secret agent nor even a cop out of action movies such as “Bad Boys 2” (2003).
Master of none!
Combining all these different movie genres is not an easy task. Sadly for this movie, this endeavor didn’t really come together as the disparate elements, while decently execute on their own, interfere with story cohesiveness. While the story of a techno heist movie doesn’t need to be great, it needs quickly establish its characters and progress according to a solid, cohesive, and simple story narrative. This is separate from the elaborate tricks and plans shown in the movie.
In regards to “Fabricated City” (2017), the movie feels like an omnibus of stories rather than a single narrative; an omnibus in which the first few stories are not good compared to the story in the middle. Thus, it is an uneven experience seeing this movie. If we actually liked the protagonist more, it would help. However, because the protagonist doesn’t get properly established until the midpoint of the movie, the character keep shifting around. This is in addition to the fact that the character does too many stupid actions to bare. It is stupid! The result is that we, audience, cannot really get with the protagonist’s ordeals. The miscasting of the lead doesn’t help either. Actor Ji Chang-wook is okay as your basic action hero but cannot do much else.
The movie and the protagonist only really finds their footing midway through as the movie becomes a team based heist. This part is clearly the best part of the movie as the plot flows relatively clearly and we get some fun characters. While the characters are thin with single defining quarks to them, the actors do a decent job with what they are given. It is the shame that we are not given enough time to see the characters develop on their own and as a team. Too much time has been spent getting to this point. Even the protagonist settles into somewhat of a cohesive character at this point. Conventional but it works for this actor.
In addition, the goofy and carefree tone of this part pairs the best with the dark and over the top crazy villain story---I mean the plot. And it is bat shit crazy. In fact, I’ll say that it is only time the craziness worked. Even when the movies becomes a hybrid of “Mission Impossible” (1996): and “Bad Boys 2” (2003), the crazy over powers that combination in regards of tone. It even overshadows the themes of the movie which are “the rich and politicians are evil and controlling” and “normal people are just zombies that believe everything that the media tells them”. So, a typical Korean movie! At this point, you would think Korean movies would have mastered putting these themes on the big screen. However, “Fabricated City” (2017) fails at this since, by the end of the movie, the themes are buried under the craziness of the villain even though the movie is not subtle about its themes.
”Fabricated city” (2017) is an interesting case for me. I was disliking this movie for about halfway through. When it finally got good, it wasn’t because the movie became good rather than it became a different movie. And, even with this good, we are left wanting more and not in the good way. This is the result of the movie’s fragmented nature. It wants to be too many movies at the same time. So, the answer to whether the good overweighs the bad… will depend on how much you enjoy “techno team heist” movie I guess. For myself, I’ll call it a watchable 45 minute movie. But, remember, the movie is 2 hours long.