Concrete Utopia is a South Korean film premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival 2023 about the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in a community. The story takes a harsh look at how people give in to their basest instincts in a crisis and the brutality that ensues. Check out my Concrete Utopia review for my recommendation of this intense movie.
The Concrete Utopia Review Will Be Spoiler-Free
When an Earthquake ravages an entire city, only one apartment complex is left standing. With many people homeless, injured, starving and cold, they all seek refuge from that one complex. What follows in Concrete Utopia is how the survivors try to live, but more importantly, how those who still have a home, react to the plight of their community members. It’s a dark exploration of how survival instincts can bring the worst out in human beings.
As a community, the residents of this apartment complex band together, elect a leader and go about systematically creating a new society for them to survive in. However, it comes at the expense of their own humanity. A local resident, Yeong-tak (Lee Bryung-hun) becomes their leader, due to his bravery when an accidental fire breaks out in the building. Acting rather sheepish, this newfound leadership seems foreign to him at first, but he quickly adapts. He chooses Min-seong (Park Seo-joon), a meek and quiet social service worker as part of the anti-crime force of this new society. Together they have to make hard decisions and act even more harshly to protect what is theirs.
Concrete Utopia Shows Humanity At Its Worst
What follows is a deep dive into the absolute worst way that people can behave to protect themselves and their loved ones. As resources diminish, frustrations grow and the world gets smaller, this group of people have to figure out whether to follow an increasingly unstable leader or hold on to their humanity and do what’s right. Even if it means fewer chances of survival. This ideal is heralded by Min-seong’s wife Myeong-hwa (Park Bo-young).
Unlike the usual disaster movie, Concrete Utopia doesn’t focus on action sequences or external conflict. The conflict here is themselves, and their concerning lack of wanting to help their fellow man. The internal struggle is wrestling with what’s right and what they need to do to survive. It’s a philosophic debate brought to the screen with characters embodying those specific viewpoints.
Director Tae-hwa Eom imbibes the screen with paranoia, mood and atmosphere, rather than quirky characters in a dystopian future. The world-building is intense as we flash back to certain characters’ back stories, reflecting on how they got to this situation.
The Performances Are Impeccable With Varying Degrees Of Intensity
The performances within Concrete Utopia are excellent! Seo-joon and Bo-young as the husband and wife caught up in this struggle for power and survival are the remnants of righteous-ness in the story. Min-seong’s journey is the personification of how even good can succumb to questionable behaviours in the face of death. While Myeong-hwa is the moral compass of the story. Western audiences will remember Byung-hun from Squid Games or the G.I. Joe movies as Storm Shadow. He is brilliant as the leader who has this burden thrust upon him, but also alluding to a past that somehow prepares him for this.
Concrete Utopia is a showcase of the worst thing that can happen to a collective of people when facing the ultimate adversity; death. And while the movie isn’t all doom and gloom, it’s a grounded and realistic look at how collective survival instincts can at times be at the expense of their own humanity.
Concrete Utopia premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival 2023.
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TIFF ’23: CONCRETE UTOPIA Explores The Absolute Worst Of Humanity In A Crisis
- Acting - 8/108/10
- Cinematography/Visual Effects - 9/109/10
- Plot/Screenplay - 7/107/10
- Setting/Theme - 7.5/107.5/10
- Watchability - 7.5/107.5/10
- Rewatchability - 7/107/10