A.M. 11:00 (11 A.M.)

This entry is part 63 of 72 in the series SF in South Korea

Well, I finally sat down and watched the Korean Sf film A.M. 11:00 with Mrs. Jiwaku last night. It’s a time travel outing I heard about (and mentioned here) ages ago; delays on film releases never bode well, but I thought the premise sounded promising, so we gave it  a shot anyway.


Sadly, it was a disappointment, and for the usual sorts of reasons, when it comes to Korean SF films. Here’s what I had to say on IMDB.com about it:

Yet another disappointing Korean SF film, 11 A.M. starts out potentially promising, but devolves into a nonsensical mess of melodrama (so many tears!) and laughably bad science very quickly. It’s a shame that decent actors and such a great set–and budget–were wasted on such a turkey of a script. One only wishes that people in the Korean film industry would hire actual Korean SF authors (or even just science consultants) before greenlighting scripts like these.

That said, the sets and the special effects deserve recognition, and the actors did the best they could with what they had. Maybe the director was trying to appeal to a “mass audience” in Korea by including all the romantic-family-backstory melodrama, but plenty of foreign SF films (and even mainstream TV series) appeal to large Korean audiences without all that weepy family drama stuff.

Long ago, I was chatting with a student about the differences between American and Korean TV dramas; she was struggling to explain why, even though Korean TV shows had improved in terms of production values, they still felt “inferior” to her in terms of quality and story.

One of my own observations from that conversation was that the vast majority of Korean TV series (especially those set in the present day) have more in common with Victorian novels than with contemporary life: the inescapable patterns of plotting tend much more towards Austen than Auster. That is: the rich nasty young man and the poor girl who loves him; the abusive father and the long-suffering mom who occasionally throws a temper tantrum; or the abusive mom and the long-suffering dad, and the rich woman and the poor boy she falls for. When Korean dramas (those aired on the mainstream channels) are set in workplaces–as they often are–very little energy or attention is devoted to any kind of sensible depiction of the work that goes on there: it’s all about which coworkers are going to fall in love, or clash, or form a love triangle, or whatever.

There are of course exceptions. (Once again I’ll mention 네 멋대로 해라 (Ruler of Your Own World), as a positive counterexample. Also, I’ve heard the offerings on cable are getting more and more interesting, though ) But the counterexamples in large part prove the rules: as I noticed every time I was in the presence of a TV during prime time. There really should be a drinking game based on the ten most common tropes in Korea drama, but if there were, anyone playing it would end up in the hospital after an hour of MBC or KBS prime time programming.

In 11:00 A.M., the main problem is that the science is all window dressing. That might work when it’s just some research lab show, where the Stem Cell Expert is going to fall in love with the Chief Lab Director’s daughter. But in an SF movie? Where the science is key?

It’s not just the bad science, since after all you can make a very successful SF film with some extremely dumb science sandwiched into it: The Matrix is an important example, as Mike Brother explains nicely. Okay, the dumb science is, well… it’s here and there in The Matrix, and we can explain it away since none of the main characters are actually scientists. But in 11 A.M., the main characters are all scientists, and all say the most laughably stupid things constantly. Like, for example, “Look, this nuclear reactor is going to blow up, but okay, I’ll wait until five minutes before it’s due to blow before fleeing, okay?” Um… you can’t get far away enough to survive in five minutes, as any physicist–or, you know, person who can spell his own name–ought to know.

The crutch for Hollywood SF–which is pretty science-ignorant too, much of the time–is style. That just works as a much better crutch in SF than emotional melodrama. When more Korean filmmakers figure out that out (so far, only Bong Joon-ho and Joon-hwan Jang seem to have done so), the sooner these biannual big-budget Korean SF films will start cashing in. Any Korean filmmaker interesting in my advice need only look here. (Maybe I should get that translated to Korean or something…)

Oh, one more thing: this is the second Korean SF film set on some kind of scientific contraption in the middle of the ocean. (7광구 was the other one, and it stank too.)

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