CAPSULE: In Seoul, South Korea, a new 108-story luxury skyscraper is hit by a helicopter on Christmas Eve setting the building on fire and turning it into a deathtrap. This film was obviously an attempt to out-do Irwin Allen's THE TOWERING INFERNO. The characters are a little flat in both films, but the spectacular visuals do a lot that Allen could not. Don't look for character development or deep meaning, but THE TOWER is a real roller-coaster ride. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Hong Kong and Korean filmmakers have a strategy of taking on popular Western genres, making them their own, and then pumping up the action sequences, often at the expense of credibility. Filmmakers like John Woo are best known for doing this with gangster films in which the shootouts are huge firefights. THE TOWER represents the same strategy for another genre. It is a South Korean knock off of Irwin Allen's THE TOWERING INFERNO. I don't know much about super-high-rise architecture, but I am willing to accept most of what I am seeing as being realistic. And if the objective was to out-do THE TOWERING INFERNO, I have to say, "Mission accomplished." This film is one heck of a scary ride.
It is Christmas Eve in Tower Sky, a new 108-floor apartment building that is a self-contained community. We are told that certain mistakes were made with the water delivery system in order to accommodate more shops in the upper stories, and of course we all know what is coming. In the middle of the Christmas celebration a helicopter outside the building gets caught in an up updraft and loses control, its blades impressively slicing through shattering glass windows and starting fires at several places in the building. Most of the fire escape routes become deathtraps. Immediately the viewer starts asking who of the people we have met in the early, peaceful parts of the film are now going to die. Who will escape and what will be left of them? These are the same question all disaster films ask.
Based on a screenplay by Sang-don Kim, the major attraction of a film like this is the action scenes. The action scenes do have the visual splendor of explosions and billowing fire all over the building. And it is clear that director and co-writer Ji-hoon Kim knows that these effects are the real stars of the film. We do not get a chance to learn enough about the main characters to care about them as people. They are given fairly flat characterizations. Most of what character they have does not really transcend the language barrier. And with unfamiliar actors, we cannot really appreciate the film the way a South Korean probably would. What the American viewer gets out of THE TOWER instead are those features that do not need any translation. An elevator opening and exploding out like a blast furnace, with flames engulfing panicky people who waited to board it, that sort of thing needs no translation.
In some ways Kim's use of violence is reserved. We may see from a medium distance a crowd of people engulfed in flame. But we never see one person with burning flesh. Kim wants to out-do THE TOWERING INFERNO, but that is not how he wants to do it. Large- scale mayhem is spectacular while close-ups might bother the viewer. Occasionally we are not sure exactly what we are looking at, but we go on to the next image quickly. Kim uses CGI on occasion, but not really obviously. Some scenes of the tower against the sky have a slightly ersatz, computerized feel. A skyway sequence is probably the crown jewel of the film.
One is left with a few questions. One child is a major character, but she seems unrealistically to be the only child in the building. Also the smoke of the fire must be visible all over Seoul and the burning building is spectacular, but there are no crowds in the street watching the destruction. This is a film that takes a little meeting half way, but THE TOWER does have a lot for the eye. I rate it +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. THE TOWER is available for instant streaming from Netflix.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2554270/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_tower_2013/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper