Natural City is one of several recent Korean movies (such as 2046) from a new school of film-making in Asia. And unfortunately, after watching, digesting, and allowing this film to sink in, I can only reach the inescapable conclusion that this ‘new school’ consists of former music video directors who have watched Blade Runner far too many times. The discerning film-goer will even notice some exact shots are actually lifted in this movie from Ridley Scott’s neo-noir masterpiece. This film – perhaps even more than the source material that it clearly owes its entire existence to – relies far too much on slick, but ultimately hollow and meaningless, cinematography.
Its story slows to a crawl, and patches together pointless scenes such as R’s bar fight to keep what semblance of kinetic energy it promised on the film’s back cover going. Ridiculous logistical scenes are turned into ethereal mini-music videos with no point and no underlying symbolism. It’s as if the director is desperately trying to emulate the emotional power of scenes in Blade Runner by using that film’s same tricks – slow motion, sappy music, and rain. Unfortunately, Natural City never hits anywhere near the mark it sets for itself, and the director seems genuinely clueless as to what his movie’s actual symbolic meaning is. The result is a muddled atrocity of a story that moves like frozen chocolate pudding and has to resort to a big gunfight and cliché ‘self-destruct countdown’ sequence as its climax to make up for its own glaring shortcomings.
The good things about this movie? The lead actor, playing the part of R, is actually quite good at attracting empathy. Visually, there are a few interesting bits. The death of one of the film’s main characters is a touching but hollow scene, which perhaps unintentionally works in its favor. Some of the atmosphere is very depressive and moody and really lends to the overall feel, but I don’t think any single scene really steps out and defines this film visually. There is a very generic sci-fi feel to certain things (such as the M.P.’s, and the gunfight at the beginning of the film).
I should make very clear that while this film is clearly derivative of Blade Runner, it is nowhere near the feast for the eyes that the former is, and it also fails miserably at putting its own unique visual spin on the future. And as a simple aside, to those who suggest that it is unfair to compare the two films – Natural City itself draws the comparisons, actively inciting them on its front cover. That is this movie’s gimmick, and ultimately, its failing.