Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Natural City: an SF film from Korea

A Korean SF film--

That was what intrigued me most about this film when I first read about it. I don't think I have ever watched a Korean film before, and I'm positive that I haven't seen an SF film from Korea. I didn't bother reading the rest of the description and simply placed it in my Netflix queue.

When Natural City arrived, I again didn't bother reading the brief paragraph about it and loaded it into my DVD player. It was a bit confusing at first; part of the problem was adjusting to simultaneously reading the subtitles and following the action . However, some of the opening scenes began to make sense after I had watched a bit more of the film. It was then that I started to notice some rather familiar themes, which surprised me. If I had read the brief description, I would not have been as surprised as I was.

The setting is the future, 2080 to be exact, just after a devastating war. The action takes place in a futuristic city, set side by side with the ruins of a city destroyed in the war. We first encounter Cyon, a young woman who lives in the ruins along with numerous other outcasts who either can't live in the city or have fled it. She lives by her wits--a thief at times, a prostitute at times, and a fortune teller most of the time.

We also encounter the lovers, one of whom is a member of the MPs, which apparently stands for Military Police. The woman, Rea, is a dancer, a cyborg created to be a superb dancer, far superior to anything humans can do. Cyborgs are created humans, who resemble "born" humans so closely that one can't tell the difference.

Warning: I discuss a number of significant plot elements and issues. However, I do not reveal the ending.

The first action scene provided some wake-up clues: a group of cyborgs led by a combat cyborg attacks the medical center and have to be driven off by the MPs, led by an officer called Noma. A member of his unit is his closest friend, "R," who happens to be the MP who is in love with the cyborg dancer. The cyborgs, while in control of the medical center, do a complete scan of the DNA records for the human citizens of the area.

The humans are not certain as to why the cyborgs wanted this information, for it didn't seem to have anything to do with what they knew about Cyper, the combat cyborg who is the leader of the cyborg group. Cyper's actions have always been connected with the cyborgs' termination date. While the cyborgs are physically superior to the humans, they are cursed with the knowledge that they have been created with a limited life span. Cyper's past actions had concentrated on finding ways to extend his termination date.

R's cyborg lover carries a small device, about the size of a cell phone, around with her that she occasionally places against her skin. She then hears a voice that tells her that she has only three days, __ hours, __ minutes, and 15 seconds left--14 seconds--13 seconds--12 seconds . . . before her termination date.

Cyborgs indistinguishable from humans? Cyborgs physically superior to humans? Cyborgs with a termination date? A combat cyborg struggling to find a way to cancel or somehow get around this termination date?

And talking billboards soaring high above pedestrians in the city streets extolling the beauties of a vacation on a paradisaical planet?

And several scenes that take place in a noodle shop in a mall, but in the background one can see the crowds pass by?

Blade Runner?

Imagine Rick Deckard split into two characters: Noma (no man?), an officer focused solely on his job; and R (strange name--he's the only one with just a letter for a name--R--Rick?) who is in love with a cyborg and finds that it interferes with his job with the MPs. Ironically, he and Cyper, the combat cyborg, have the same problem--the cyborg termination date. The conflict between Noma and R regarding R's lack of focus on his job caused by his distress over Rea's coming termination could be seen as coming from Deckard's own ambivalence regarding his job of terminating replicants and his affection for Rachel, a replicant. Rachel and Rea--the cyborg love interest in the two films.

A solution has been found--neuronal transfer. A classic mad scientist has created a way of transferring the consciousness of one being to another. In this way, the cyborgs, or anyone else I gather, could have immortality by just transferring their consciousness to a younger and healthier human.

There is a catch though--the two involved in the transfer must have similar DNA. This is where the young woman in the opening scenes, Cyon, becomes important. She alone has DNA similar to the cyborgs. Once this is discovered, then both Cyper and R search for Cyon. R's dream is to transfer Rea's consciousness into the body of Cyon and then escape to the paradisaical vacation planet.

Three battle scenes split the film into thirds--one at the beginning, one roughly in the middle, and one at the end, naturally. The humans, physically outclassed by the cyborgs, rely on firepower. The cyborgs focus on attacking the humans with superior martial arts techniques. Unfortunately for the humans, the cyborgs can be stopped only by a direct hit to the head, which is almost impossible given the cyborgs' superior agility and strength. The battle scenes are quite impressive.

The only problems I have with the film are the subtitles, of course, and some plot problems. But, it is possible that the plot problems are the result of being distracted by the subtitles. For example, at one point in the film, I thought that Cyon had been captured by the cyborgs, but in the next scene she is free, back in the ruins where she lives. Another viewing might resolve this problem.

I want to be sure that all understand that I do not see Natural City as a remake of Blade Runner. Byung-chun Min, who is both director and screenwriter, has taken a number of elements from Blade Runner and constructed a different film with them.

Overall Reaction: A very interesting, intriguing, and entertaining homage to Blade Runner. Recommended for those interested in SF films, especially foreign SF films, for Blade Runner aficionados curious about a different interpretation of some common themes, and for those looking for something unique.


  1. For those who can access it, you can find this movie on YouTube:

    I'll be watching it soon.

  2. Cheryl,

    Thanks for posting the link.

    I am interested in your comments about the film, once you have seen it.

  3. Fred,

    I watched the film on YouTube. I agree with what you've written and thought it was good; but Blade Runner is still the better movie, imho. You could almost say that Natural City takes place in the same world as Blade Runner, but in a different part of it. It was interesting to see martial arts movie effects in the film, too. I would've liked it to end with R getting together with Cyon, but that didn't happen. (Sigh.) It's definitely worth watching. Thanks for letting your readers know about it!

  4. Cheryl,

    No argument there. Blade Runner is definitely the better film. I also wondered about the possibility of R and Cyon getting together, but it was not to be.