ContactSales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: South Korea, 25 Dec 2012.
Presented by CJ Entertainment (SK). Produced by The Tower Pictures (SK), CJ Entertainment (SK). Executive producer: Jeong Tae-seong. Producers: Lee Han-seung, Lee Su-nam.
Script: Kim Sang-don, Heo Jun-seok. Adaptation: Kim Ji-hun, Yu Yeong-a, Lee Min-jae. Photography: Kim Yeong-ho. Editing: Kim Sang-beom, Kim Jae-beom. Music: Kim Tae-seong. Production design: Park Il-hyeon. Costume design: Kim Gyeong-mi. Sound: Lee Sang-jun, Lee Seung-cheol, Lee Seong-jin. Action: Kim Cheol-jun. Special effects: Yun Dae-won. Visual effects: Choi Jae-cheon (Digital Idea, CJ Powercast).
Cast: Seol Gyeong-gu (Captain Gang Yeong-gi), Son Ye-jin (Seo Yun-hui), Kim Sang-gyeong (Lee Dae-ho), Kim In-gwon (Sergeant Oh Byeong-man), An Seong-gi (Yeouido Fire Station chief), Song Jae-ho (Mr. Yun, the old man), Lee Ju-shil (Mrs. Jeong, his friend), Lee Han-wi (Kim, the church elder), Gwon Tae-won (Jang, the Fire Commissioner), Jeon Guk-hyang (Ae-ja), Jeong In-gi (Cha, the safety section head), Cha In-pyo (Jo, the chairman), Jeon Bae-su (Yeong-cheol, the cook), Kim Seong-o (In-geon), Min Yeong (Nam-ok, the pregnant woman), Park Jun-seo (aide), Lee Ju-ha (Min-jeong, the receptionist), Do Ji-han (Lee Seon-u, the rookie fireman), Jo Min-a (Ha-na, Yeong-gi's daughter), Lee Sang-hong, Jin Mo, Chu Min-gi, Gang Pung (Yeouido firemen), Gwon Hyeon-sang (Yeong-hun), Lee Chang-yong (command HQ specialist), Lee Chang-ju (Jo's private secretary), Park Cheol-min (head cook), Kim Eung-su (Jin), Park Jeong-hak (Jeong), Park Yong-su (Park), Nam Sang-seok, Gwon Yeong-hui, Lee Min-u (reporters in front of Tower Sky).
The Tower 타워
Contemporary action drama
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 121 mins
Directed by Kim Ji-hoon (김지훈 | 金志勳)
By Derek Elley
Sat, 09 February 2013, 15:00 PM (HKT)
Superbly packaged disaster drama is weakened by thin characters and repetitive action. Asian and genre events, plus ancillary.
Seoul, 24 Dec 2011. At the giant new Tower Sky building, on the banks of the Han River, central Seoul, final preparations are being made for a splashy Xmas Eve party to celebrate the 70-storey, twin-towered edifice which can hold 5,700 residents. Chairman Jo (Cha In-pyo) is determined that nothing will go wrong. When a small fire breaks out in the huge kitchen, and the local Yeouido Fire Station is alerted, catering manager Seo Yun-hui (Son Ye-jin) is carpeted by section head Cha (Jeong In-gi), though she points out that the kitchen is insufficiently ventilated. Maintenance & operation head Lee Dae-ho (Kim Sang-gyeong) notices there is no water available for sprinklers above the 60th floor, as the piping was placed on the outside of the building to make room for more shopping space and has now frozen in the cold weather. He makes a request for extra sprinklers for the evening's party but is turned down. His young daughter Ha-na (Jo Min-a) visits him at work, and chats up Yun-hui, whom she knows her dad fancies. Meanwhile, a cook in the kitchen (Jeon Bae-su) tries to propose to a receptionist, Min-jeong (Lee Ju-ha), but is forced to delay his plan until the evening. As darkness falls, the celebrity-laden party gets under way, with a speech from Jo, a firework display, and manufactured snow sprinkled from containers carried by helicopters. But then one of the copters hits some wind turbulence and crashes into the tower holding the party. As its fuel ignites, a massive fire breaks out on the 63rd floor and the guests and staff panic. Firemen from Yeouido turn up at the scene, led by "legendary" Captain Gang Yeong-gi (Seol Gyeong-gu), who was planning to have his first Xmas at home with his wife. Other firemen under the command of the fire station chief (An Seong-gi) include the colourful Sergeant Oh Byeong-man (Kim In-gwon) and keen rookie Lee Seon-u (Do Ji-han). As the firemen battle their way up the building, Dae-ho tries to find his daughter.
The first, and most pleasant, surprise about The Tower 타워 (2012) is that it's a big improvement on Sector 7 ７광구 (2011), the last big-budget spectacle that director KIM Ji-hoon 김지훈 | 金志勳 made for CJ Entertainment. Though it's equally unoriginal — basically an updated remake of The Towering Inferno, set in Seoul — the special and visual effects are superb, the film is in good old-fashioned 2-D, and Kim at least shows a feel for the dynamics of Hollywood disaster movies that he so obviously wants to replicate. The subject no longer has the wow-factor of the original, made almost 40 years ago, but it looks great, the money is up on the screen in every shot and, though it loses dramatic traction during the final half-hour, it's still an entertaining popcorn movie.
"Popcorn" is the operative word here, as The Tower is essentially an American movie in every way, except for its Korean faces and soundtrack, and its attitude towards individual heroism. It's even set at Christmas and has firemen with English on their helmets — one of several ways in which any local cultural identity has been erased from the film to make it more international in appeal. Ultimately, however, all of that renders the film less special and makes it look more fake, as the South Korean actors ape American stereotypes in a way that doesn't ring true. Combined with a script and dialogue that seems pasted together from every Hollywood cliche in the book, the result is a film that's glossily and expensively packaged but has very little real tension.
During the half-hour before the antics start, the script quickly assembles the usual group of characters: a single-father maintenance head (KIM Sang-gyeong 김상경 | 金相慶) who's spotted a fault in the sprinkler system, his cute young daughter, a cute catering head he fancies (SON Ye-jin 손예진 | 孫兿珍), an old couple in love, a religious nutter, a ruthless chairman, a fireman with marital problems (SEOL Gyeong-gu 설경구 | 薛景求), and so on. However, they're very thinly characterised, and not particularly interesting. Towering Inferno got round the problem by casting star names (both veteran and younger) in every role, which obviated the need for much backgrounding; but The Tower doesn't feature an especially starry or charismatic cast, apart from (in the Steve McQueen role) Seol, a fine actor known for his films with director LEE Chang-dong 이창동 | 李滄東 plus others like Public Enemy 공공의 적 (2002). Veteran AN Seong-gi 안성기 | 安聖基 pops up as the fire station chief, but Kim is better known for more intimate fare like the films of HONG Sang-soo 홍상수 | 洪常秀 and Son, not an especially exciting actress, for romantic dramas like The Classic 클래식 (2003), A Moment to Remember 내 머리 속의 지우개 (2004) and April Snow 외출 (2005).
In its favour, the film adopts a lightly humorous tone in the first half-hour that's refreshing and very engaging; but it's not enough to carry the audience's sympathies with the characters as the destruction and cliff-hanging starts. What's left is just the physical action, which is well-staged and keeps coming. However, with the focus spread so thinly across a low-wattage group, even the action starts to become a tad repetitive after an hour or so of flames, water and collapsing floors, and the film's lack of geography — of where people are in relation to others — is unclear throughout. The Tower deserves an extra point for its effects, which are seamless and look utterly convincing; but on an emotional level it's actually less engaging than earlier South Korean firefighter drama Libera Me 리베라 메 (2000), or Johnnie TO 杜琪峯's gutsy Lifeline 十萬火急 (1997).