The director of ‘Welcome to Dongmakgol’ returns with an exciting big-budget thriller from South Korea.
Films about characters framed for crimes they didn’t commit and forced to clear their name against the odds are a familiar sight both domestically and abroad, and that ubiquitousness means any new entry in the subgenre has to work that much harder to stand apart from the crowd. The new South Korean thriller, Fabricated City, does just that by going big right out of the gate before settling down to become something of a more traditional thriller.
Kwon Yu (Ji Chang-wook) is captain of an elite military squad that also includes a hacker, a sniper, and an explosives expert, and when we first meet them they’re engaged in a deadly battle against an overwhelming force intent on causing mass destruction. High-tech military gear and beautifully-executed action collide in their assault on the enemy, but while they complete their mission it comes at the cost of Kwon Yu’s life. Lucky for him it’s a videogame, and they can just hit reset to play again.
His real life is far less thrilling as he’s an unemployed nobody who’s broke, lives with his mom, and has never met his online teammates. Things take a turn though when he’s arrested after returning a stranger’s phone for the rape and murder of a minor – he has no memory of doing so, but the physical evidence against him is damning. He’s convicted, sentenced to life, and destined to die a despised man, but after an initial period of despondence he becomes determined to escape, clear his name, and find the truth behind his manipulated fate. With only the help of his gamer friends to aid him he sets out to do just that.
Like I said, the story is a familiar one, and the big action sequence that opens the film aside, most of what we see here is fairly traditional. The specifics are fresh throughout, but most of what happens in regard to story beats can be seen coming in advance. Even so, Fabricated City is never dull thanks to exciting, stylish action, engaging-enough characters, and a dedication to not pulling its punches.
Kwon Yu’s time in prison is rough – he’s beaten on a regular basis, and after tangling with a resident gang leader named Ma (Kim Sang-ho) he also finds himself sexually assaulted. This is no Tom Selleck in An Innocent Man where he comes close to being raped but narrowly avoids it – Kwon Yu is not so lucky – and his spiral of despair leads him to attempt suicide by chewing at his own wrists. It does not dodge the darkness.
Things pick up a bit once he finds his way outside the prison and meets up with his online friends. None of them resemble the images he had in his head including the hacker who turns out to be a shy young woman who prefers to communicate over the phone even when she’s in the same room with the person on the other end. Yeo-wool (Shim Eun-kyung) is something of a refreshing character both for being a female who’s the brains of the group and for not being a love interest.
It’s one of a few surprises in Park’s script, and even as it checks off some expected boxes there are enough similarly exciting turns to hold our attention. The story feels at times like a Dean Koontz novel – think The Husband or The Good Guy – in regard to the detail and scope of the conspiracy facing our hero, and that’s a compliment. Neither too simple nor too convoluted, the plot develops in intriguing ways that keep viewers rapt even as it moves further and further from reality.
Fabricated City is a familiar but fun action/thriller punctuated by exciting fight scenes, car chases, and more. There’s even a pretty great rant about millennials. It’s not all that memorable in the grand scheme of Korean cinema, but it’s an entertaining watch for two hours of your time.
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