Fabricated City (2017) Review

"Fabricated City" Korean Theatrical Poster

“Fabricated City” Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Park Kwang-Hyun
Writer: Park Kwang-Hyun, Oh Sang-Ho
Cast: Ji Chang-Wook, Shim Eun-Kyung, Oh Jung-Se, Ahn Jae-Hong, Kim Sang-Ho, Kim Ki-Cheon, Kim Min-Kyo, Lee Honey, Kim Ho-Jung, Lee Soon-Won, Kim Seul-Gi

By Paul Bramhall

While on the surface it may seem like Fabricated City  and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation have little in common, both share at least one similarity – their marketing campaigns revolved around a bombastic opening action scene that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. While one gives us Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane, the other gives us popular drama actor Ji Chang-wook as Captain, as he and his elite team are dropped (literally) bang in the middle of an urban warzone. They have a mission to infiltrate a building, but it’s surrounded by enemies, which leads to an excessive amount of stylish gunplay, explosions, and macho heroics. It’s a relentless sequence which sees Fabricated City storming out of the gates, before revealing that it’s only Chang-wook’s imagination of the first person shooter he’s playing with his online friends.

That’s the first and last time we see such a sequence, so the initial expectations of Fabricated City drawing its inspiration from the likes of Tron, and more recently Gamer, are quickly dashed. So, what exactly are we left with? In my opinion, one of the worse Korean movies of the last decade. Chang-wook, who plays an unemployed slacker that spends his days playing computer games, soon leaves the internet café only to find himself as the main suspect of an underage rape and murder. It seems only moments later he’s found guilty, and from there things escalate very quickly. Maximum security prisons, hysterical shouting, sodomy, excessive wailing, suicides, more shouting, and even a ghost gets thrown in. Everything is cranked up to 11 before we have a chance to care about anything that’s happening, and this is only in the first 20 minutes. There’s so much yelling I’m surprised some of the cast had any voice left to make the rest of the movie.

Chang-wook is a popular TV drama actor in Korea, thanks to his action roles in the likes of Healer, but he barely registers, and the role could have been played by literally any other good looking star. Director Park Kwang-hyeon’s decision to have a whole movie rest on his shoulders was ill advised, and is reflective of a filmmaker who has perhaps lost his way. After his successful debut with the quirky war comedy Welcome to Dongmakgol in 2005, Kwang-hyeon has spent the last several years trying to get his sci-fi infused martial arts movie, The Fist, off the ground without success. The sci-fi elements of that project are to some degree evident in Fabricated City. Chang-wook turns to a lawyer who has a reputation for helping those in need, played by Oh Jung-se. Sporting a birthmark that covers part of his face and lop sided emo style hair, he appears to have just walked off the set of Techno Warriors, and has to be the most blatantly telegraphed bad guy in recent movie history.

As expected, considering Chang-wook gives all his energy to gaming, the thought of him having any left to rape and murder someone is simply incomprehensible. Millennials would understand I guess. So he hatches a plan to escape from his daily life of beatings in prison, perhaps realising that we’ve already had 3 Korean movies in the last 12 months which prominently feature prison scenarios (A Violent Prosecutor, The Prison, and The Merciless), and escapes to clear his name. When not being chased by a field full of cows or helped by a cheerfully plump African American couple, who make Skids and Mudflap from Transformers look like cultural beacons, Chang-wook eventually ends up teaming up in person with his online gaming teammates (of whom he’s never met). Throughout all of this, it’s required to endure a soundtrack of techno and metal-rap.

The main teammate comes in the form of Shim Eun-kyun, a talented actress who took the lead in the previous years Missing You. Unfortunately she spends the whole time with her face hidden behind a mop of hair, and plays a character who’s so socially inept she only talks over the phone, even when the person she’s talking to is sat directly across from her. I’ve no doubt on paper it may have looked like a quirky character trait, however onscreen it comes across as idiotic, and is frequently dropped whenever the plot deems it convenient. The same could be said for the several poorly conceived attempts at comedy Fabricated City makes, all of which tend to result in a feeling of embarrassment for the actors rather than the desired laughs.

The plot eventually comes around to reveal that a shadowy organization is framing innocent nobodies for the accidental deaths caused by those with both money and power. The plot device of making a death appear to be not what it seems has been used before, perhaps most successfully in Soi Cheang’s Accident from 2009, and just like that movie here it’s also used as a service which can be bought. However more so than any other production, Fabricated City ultimately comes off as some kind of misguided attempt to combine The Fugitive and Hackers for the millennial generation. The phenomena of youths wasting every hour of the day holed up in internet cafes playing games may be a uniquely Asian one, but in the right directors hands Chang-wook’s character I’m sure could have been a sympathetic one, but here the connection never happens.

Fabricated City also has one of the most bizarre forms of product placement I’ve seen (or should I say, heard) in a movie. At the time of its release, popular trot (a kind of traditional Korean pop music) singer Hong Jin-young had a new single in the charts called Loves Me, Loves Me Not. The song always just happens to be playing when a character switches the radio on – driving in a car, when Chang-wook and his team are talking at home, and in the background of an office. The lack of subtlety it shows is rather disconcerting, as the chances of the same song being played in the various scenarios it shows up in are as realistic as most other aspects of the production. If I was to read a theory that explained whenever the song played was actually a glitch in the Matrix, I may well be willing to give Fabricated City more credit than it actually deserves.

As it is though, the plot revelations are delivered in a decidedly clunky manner, often leaving it unclear as to how a certain conclusion has been reached. Audiences certainly don’t need to be spoon fed, and on the contrary the audience for these movies are usually more than capable of picking up the spoon themselves, but in this case the waiter dropped the soup long before it got to the table. A perfect example of this is the character played by Kim Sang-ho, a supporting actor who’s instantly recognizable from the likes of The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale and Haemoo. Here he gets a beefy role as the leader of the prison gang, who takes an instant disliking to Chang-wook and proceeds to pursue him for the duration of the movie, with no clear explanation given as to exactly why.

Other points are left hanging all together, like the fact that Chang-wook used to be a promising taekwondo athlete, but he gave it up because, well, those online games are just too much fun. Considering Fabricated City sells itself as an action movie, you’d think those taekwondo skills would come in useful at some point, but they barely get a look-in. Instead the action relies on a number of competently staged car chases, usually involving the souped up rust bucket that the random African American backpackers donated to Chang-wook when they leave him at the airport. Don’t ask. In fairness, there is one action scene of note. Taking place in the dark, Chang-wook throws a handful of beads that become fluorescent for a few seconds on impact, which he uses to take down a number of lurking attackers. Visually it’s striking, but at the same time it feels like I’m clutching at straws to not be completely negative.

Clearly Fabricated City has its audience, as it’s far from being universally labelled as a piece of trash, however it’s safe to say that I’m not a part of it. If there was a character arc for Chang-wook then I clearly missed it, as the movie closes with the team of online gamers coming out victorious, the only assumption left is that they’ll head to the nearest internet café and continue their gaming shenanigans. Fabricated City opens and closes with a pretentious voice over rambling some nonsense about a tree that looks like it was rotting actually being alive. Perhaps Kwang-hyeon wanted to be ironic, because I felt pretty alive before I started to watch Fabricated City, but by the time the end credits rolled, my will to live was questionable.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 2/10

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