Friday, August 18, 2023

Space Feels Like Hell: The Moon (2023) Review

Director: Kim Yong-hwa
Notable Cast: Sul Kyung-gu, Doh Kyung-soo, Kim Hee-ae

When you think of big, entertaining blockbusters from South Korea, the types of works that draw in the masses, there are a few names that leap to mind. But even among the ones that you just thought of, there is no doubt that Kim Yong-hwa came up. 

He's one of the most successful filmmakers, alongside other blockbuster giants such as Ryoo Seung-wan (Veteran) or Choi Dong-hoon (The Thieves). His previous works, like the two part Among the Gods films or even the Chinese co-production Mr. Go, have this formula and local flavor that works both in their region and abroad. Universality is one of the things that makes Kim's films works. They are big, grandiose, and a bit emotional, but I have always found myself to be counted as perhaps one of his biggest champions. So needless to say, I was absolutely ready to take a trip to The Moon. How does this summer blockbuster fair, and is this effects driven extravaganza worth the journey? Let's get into it.

It's the year 2029 and South Korea has embarked on a mission to the moon with a small team and their prized lunar probe, Woori. This captures a lot of eyes globally and just when all is seeming to go well for the team, a sudden solar windstorm wreaks havoc on the crew leaving astronaut Hwang Sun-woo stranded alone, fighting for survival. The team sent this time around had hoped to avoid the disasters that an earlier attempt met with disastrous results. The drama that unfolds around one man's fate brings the tensions of many nations to the forefront and a question that comes to all of our minds is presented to the world, what are our nationalities at the end of the day and what ideologies are we really putting aside to save a life? 

It's a very patriotic question that The Moon explores, and it is this exact sense of nationalism that clashes with its own sense of trying to push a one human race mindset. While I think the sentiment is great and the heart is definitely in the right spot with the film, it's the huge explosion of melodrama that really pushes the film away from a pure entertainment spectacle and it loses itself along the way.

To those clamoring for exciting set pieces, The Moon delivers the goods in spades. The VFX crew deserves a huge around of applause here as the picture, as a whole, is quite stunning to look at. The attention to detail is immaculate, and when the crap hits the fan, more than once, we are strapped in to a thrilling ride that will leave audiences at the edge of their seats. In one particular moment where Kwang pilots his land rover vehicle through a meteor shower, I found myself completely enamored with the film as it fires off on every possible technical cylinder. 

The sound is immersive and the editing tight, with the camera getting right in the action and pulling back in the right moments to deliver some truly larger than life moments. It was in these intense sequences that I found The Moon to work the best. It's hard not to root for someone in a survival situation, and the fantastical side of things (almost every single one of us that reads this review or sees this film will never experience space travel) elevate this to some applaud worthy moments. If you live near a theater that is playing this, see it one the biggest and loudest set up possible. The Moon is the type of film that was made for the theater going experience.

In terms of acting, the main cast does their best and mostly deliver believable performances. It's not that I couldn't buy into them as human beings, but rather that their emotions were so broad and limiting that any sort of nuances are completely stripped away. People are either fighting back tears are bulging their eyes in anticipation. Even Doh Kyung-soo spends 80% of his performance with his eyes wide open. The reaction to the intense things going on around him at times drew laughter from me, unintentional to the film's purpose I'm certain. Even the legend himself, Sul Kyung-gu, was severely theatrical, even though his sincerity is definitely felt a time or two. It wasn't until the film's very long and congested ending that I felt myself becoming invested in the lives being portrayed onscreen, and by then, it was unfortunately too little, too late. 

I think the run time will bother some, clocking in at around two hours and ten minutes, but these types of things typically don't bother me on a personal level. I think there is a solid balance in the disasters taking place on the moon with our leading man and the drama that is happening back on Earth.

When all is said and done, The Moon is a film that is very much worth giving a shot. It's designed for the big screen experience and, in that regard, it certainly delivers. However, for those looking for something more subtle or for even something that feels a little more grounded, you'll probably want to skip on this one. I do think this a film that will divide audiences, but it certainly is a piece of entertainment worth giving a shot. Is The Moon a runaway success? Certainly not, but is it a blockbuster that will get to you from time to time? Absolutely! Recommended to the right crowd.

Written by Josh Parmer

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