Concrete Utopia (2023)

Director: Um Tae-hwa

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Lee Byung-hun, Park Seo-jun, Park Bo-young, Kim Sun-young, Park Ji-hu, Kim Do-yoon, Lee Seo-hwan, Kang Ae-sim

Setting the scene with a natural disaster, director/co-writer Um Tae-hwa opens his film with an earthquake that reduces almost all of Seoul to rubble. Standing like a cement fortress amidst the ruins is Hwang Gung Apartments, a building that sees outsiders arriving to try escaping the extreme cold weather. As it becomes apparent that rescue teams are not coming, the apartment residents intend to solve the issue of increasing numbers by forcibly evicting the outsiders.

As the worsening weather makes the outside a more dangerous place, the increased numbers lead to rising tensions. Amidst the circumstances, loner Kim Yeong-tak (Lee Byung-hun) finds himself regarded as a hero due to his actions during a fire, while Kim Min-seong (Park Seo-jun) laments about his inaction. Layers are added to the characters through flashbacks, with glimpses of the past informing their present to help viewers understand them.

In our modern world, owning property is a dream that feels further out of reach as time passes. That issue is compounded in these apocalyptic circumstances, where a new hierarchy is built which sees the Hwang Gung citizens consider themselves "the chosen people" while referring to outsiders as "cockroaches." Despite the circumstances leading the world to be reset, the residents still hold onto a sense of self-worth at others' expense and subsequently create a new system familiarly based on classism and fear-mongering. It is clear that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Despite them being in such desperate times, the Hwang Gung citizens adapt to live affluently and satisfy themselves at the cruel expense of others. As many hide their barbarity under excuses, while others openly commit horrific actions for fun, it is clear that the situation has merely allowed people to show their true faces. As a vicious cycle unfolds with cruel actions being met with consequences, it becomes clear that what will truly help people is understanding and kindness. One wishes this point could have been made with a shorter runtime, as the lengthy runtime leaves attentions wavering, yet this does not detract from how effective Concrete Utopia is.

Concrete Utopia is available now on digital platforms