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‘Concrete Utopia’ Director Um Tae-Hwa, Star Lee Byung-Hun Talk South Korean Apartment Culture & Post-Apocalyptic Pic’s Black Comedy – Contenders International

‘Concrete Utopia’ Director Um Tae-Hwa, Star Lee Byung-Hun Talk South Korean Apartment Culture & Post-Apocalyptic Pic’s Black Comedy – Contenders International

Like the Japanese with their Godzilla movies, the Koreans are partial to a bit of post-apocalyptic social satire, and Um Tae-Hwa’s box office hit Concrete Utopia follows a path trailblazed in 2013 by Bong Joon-ho’s cult sci-fi Snowpiercer. Adapted from the popular webtoon Pleasant Outcast by Kim Soong Nyung and partly inspired by British writer J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel High-Rise, it centers on a Korean apartment block whose residents become lawless after a terrifying earthquake rips through the country.

Although local superstar Lee Byung-hun steals the show as Yeong-tak, a charismatic rebel leader with a sinister secret, the story is seen through the eyes of a young couple — Ming-seong (Park Seo-joon) and Myeong-hwa (Park Bo-young) — who wake up one morning to find that their lives, and in fact the whole world, have changed forever.

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Speaking about South Korea’s official Oscar submission at Deadline’s Contenders International award-season event, director Um said the initial appeal was in a single, striking image: “The fact that everything has collapsed around you and there’s only one apartment building left,” he said. “I think that concept itself was very intriguing to me.”

“And then,” he continued, “what I was also really interested in is the significance that an apartment has to Korean citizens. It’s a very significant social symbol, and so that’s what really drew me in. The reason why Korea was able to develop itself after the Korean War is because there was an intense sense of community and an intense sense of wanting to live better, in better conditions. It was called ‘The miracle on the Han River,’ and I think Korean citizens found a sense of stability in that. … If you look in Korean society today, a lot of us live in very similar-looking apartments. I, myself, was born in an apartment, I’ve lived in an apartment, and about 60% of Korean citizens live in an apartment. It’s sort of this weird thing where having — or not having — an apartment has become the standard for deciding whether you are economically successful or not.”

Asked what drew him to the project, actor Lee replied that it was the script first and foremost. “I felt that it was one of the most thrilling, black-comedy genre scripts that I’d read in a while,” he said. “And when I read it through, it made me really question myself: who would I be in that situation, and what kind of choices would I make?”

Check out the panel video above.

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