Doomsday Book is a South Korean anthology, composed of three different stories about the end of the world, involving zombies, robots and a meteor apocalypse. While director Yim Pil-sung (Antarctic Journal) worked on the first and last segment, Kim Jee-woon took care of the second one.
The only one that matters;
I SAW BUDDHA
The second segment is named Heavenly Creature, it’s about a repairman sent to a Buddhist temple where a robot is considered to have become Buddha. Is the machine defective or not?
Unlike the two other short stories, director Kim Jee-woon takes the subject seriously, exploring some interesting possibilities, like the philosophical aspect of the story.
The end of world as depicted in that segment is not spectacular, but it proves to be effective by raising provoking questions about what defines Humanity, inviting the audiences to reflect on themselves.
MINIMALIST AND POWERFUL
In fact, Kim Jee-woon doesn’t need big explosions, CGIs effects to visually impress. All he needs is a robot, a temple and few characters. That is to say, the action is almost entirely limited to one place; it contains lots of dialogue; with an inspired director.
Who takes advantage of the budget constraints: the robots look cheap, but fulfill their narrative purpose; the dialogue scenes can be a little heavy, yet, KJW makes them visually engaging, finding ways to keep ideas clear & simple—he works on different levels, uses the depth of field as well as the sets to tell the story, and to establish the main points of the plot.
HERE ARE THE EXAMPLES
Now that we’ve teased what makes this segment interesting, let’s see some examples—it may contain spoilers;
• What is the difference between these two characters? Through a simple shot/reverse shot, the director points out the state of their minds; the monk has a clear spirit, while the mind of the repairman is literally shadowed—the wall at the foreground. You can already feel something is bothering the repairman, but what is it? Roll over the image to see the other shot;
• Where is the spiritually enlightened robot? Right in the middle of men—even though at first, he doesn’t stand out as clearly from the other monks. Another interesting idea here, it’s an awakened robot in the middle of conditioned humans trying to regain enlightenment. You can see the irony!
• When the big boss of the company producing these robots come to see personally what’s happening, he’s only expressing fears & ignorance. First of all, notice he’s half-human, half-machine (the wheelchair)—to reinforce his ideas, he will later stand up as a full man, not a fulfilled spirit though.
Secondly, in this specific shot below, he’s appearing as the man who literally carries humanity on his shoulders—see where are the employee, and the monk, who will respond to him in the same shot; a change of focus and slight zoom will suffice! But because the boss wants to be the savior of humanity, the next shot shows him suddenly/violently turning around with his wheelchair—that very movement brings dynamic to the discussion, while underlining the state of mind of the boss: he doesn’t like contradiction.
• Later, the robot will finally speak. This shot is directly responding to the boss’ illusions of grandeur. Quite simply, the robot is visually taking the place of Buddha—he’s not answering full of emotions or fears, he speaks wisely, but will he be listened to?
WATCH THIS CHAPTER, AT LEAST
This segment contains many more ideas, it’s now up to you to feel/see them. Director Kim Jee-woon did a great job anyway, turning this basic end-of-the-world story into a philosophical tale, in which fear appears more dangerous to humanity than anything else.
• Available on US DVD/Blu-ray (out on December 11, 2012)