It’s Christmas, and Tower Sky (Seoul’s most luxurious high-rise apartment building) is putting on a White Christmas party to dazzle their investors and affluent guests. Dae-ho (Sang-kyung Kim), a single father and the building’s manager, is forced to cancel his plans with his young daughter Ha-na (Jo Min-ah) in order to work overtime to make the party a success. Fortunately for him, Yoon-hee (Ye-jin Son) – a co-worker who he not-so-secretly has a crush on – volunteers to look after her for the night. Yoon-hee and Dae-ho have concerns about the building’s safety systems, and about the flight patterns of the helicopters that form part of the evening’s spectacle, but these are overruled by the building’s Chairman. Meanwhile, Yoido Fire Station welcomes a raw new recruit (Seon-woo, played by Do Ji-han) and their legendary Fire Captain Young-ki (Kyung-gu Sol) promises his long-suffering wife that he’ll have the night off for the first time in years.
When the helicopters towing a snow-machine over the Christmas party are caught in an updraft and crash into Tower Sky, Dae-ho, Ha-na and Yoon-hee are trapped inside and both Seon-woo and Young-ki are caught up in the Fire Service’s response.
The Tower is a grand-scale disaster movie in the tradition of The Towering Inferno or Dante’s Peak. The primary plots of Dae-ho, Ha-na and Yoon-hee and the firemen coming to rescue them are interwoven with those of more minor characters which gives the film and its central disaster a vast-seeming scope. The building of Tower Sky also adds to this through its sheer enormity, and the challenge and threat it presents to the film’s relatively puny human protagonists.
While the start is a little slow (there are a lot of characters and situations to establish up front) once the main disaster kicks off everything moves along at a pretty swift pace. I was surprised at the end to see how much time had passed, as I hadn’t really felt the 2 hour running time at all. This is largely due to the plot, which is constantly eventful, and rarely neatly predictable. Unusually for a disaster film, The Tower is fairly amoral. Characters who are set up early on as obvious human villains (as opposed to the mindless antagonism of Tower Sky) walk away for the most part unpunished by fate, while likeable characters suffer and even die. This may be a point where South Korean movies habitually differ from Western ones, but I don’t really have the experience to know for sure.
Aside from a couple of notably awful CGI effects, the film looks pretty amazing. Tower Sky looks luxurious, imposing, and eventually lethal, the destruction looks spectacular and the CGI and practical effects are generally nicely balanced. The acting is broad but enjoyable, and the massive physical and emotional scale of the action means that nuance would have been a pretty pointless thing to attempt anyway.
This is in no way a subtle or thoughtful movie, but if big loud sentimental disaster movies are a thing you enjoy, I think you’ll really get into The Tower. Highly recommended.
- Theatrical trailer
- Eastern Eye trailers
DIRECTOR(S): Ji-Hoon Kim | COUNTRY: South Korea | YEAR: 2012 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Madman | RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 2.5:31| REGION: 4/PAL | DISCS: 1