The Boy and I had tried to see this on Christmas Eve, but the subtitles hadn’t been made yet. However, The Flower and I had a day trip to the OC for her art studies, and beat the traffic by catching a matinee of this Korean movie about a monster volcano at the top of North Korea that’s poised to destroy the peninsula! (Or at least cover it with ash.)
And what’s remarkable about it, at least from an American perspective, is how little the actual volcano is in the movie. Back during our last volcano-craze in the ’90s, the fun was seeing a volcano throw lava up everywhere or destroy Los Angeles, or what have you. This movie is framed as a race against the clock: Our heroes must accomplish their mission in time or Joeson is Joast. (Wow, that’s actually worse than “Joeson or Joe-home”. Give me time, though, and I’ll come up with an even worse one.)
From the top: On the even of denuclearization, a long dormant volcano in North Korea suddenly erupts, collapsing large parts of…I think it’s Seoul. Our hero, Jo (Jung-woo Ha of the Along With Gods series) is driving around avoiding falling buildings and collapsing streets so he can get home to his pregnant wife (K-Pop cutie Suzy Bae) and assure her that he’s going to do this one little job and get back in time for them to evacuate on a U.S. carrier.
That little job having been arranged by a mucky-muck Jeon (Jeon Hye-jin) who has dragged the cowardly, nerdy geologist who is still bitter over the government ignoring all his warnings, but who has a plan to stop the eruption from blowing everyone up. The nerdy, cowardly geologist is played by the Flower’s favorite living actor, Ma Dong-seok, the hulking tough guy from Along With Gods: The Last 49 Days, The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos and our favorite arm-wrestling movie Champion among many others. It’s a brilliant bit of casting.
Any way, Jeon sends her top military guys along with her top nerd crew (the one containing Jo) on a bold mission to steal the uranium from the North Korean missiles so they can put it int heir own detonation device. From there, the nerds retreat back into South Korea while the Top Men penetrate further into North Korea where a double-agent, Lee (Byung-hun Lee, I Saw The Devil, Keys to the Heart, Memoir of a Murderer) will be waiting to take them the rest of the way.
Of course, the air is filled with ash and as they cross over to North Korea, the top military guys’ plane goes down…and now the technical guys have to complete the mission. And, as it turns out, double-agent Lee is not the most trustworthy guy.
It’d be enough for a movie, but then factor in that the American military really doesn’t want anyone getting hold of that uranium, and our South Korean nerds have to hold them off and/or escape from them in order to complete their mission. This is basically impossible. (The nerds know instantly they’re not dealing with some ragged NoKo force, but by that time most of them have been shot.)
This was, I admit, a little difficult, rooting for the Koreans over the US. And the American position was eminently sane: Keep the nuclear weapons out of the hands of Chinese terrorists, which is exactly where the uranium was going to end up, given Lee’s machinations.
But Lee has a soft spot in the form of his daughter, who is very close to the volcano and who he thinks he can maybe get across the border in exchange for the uranium. So even he has a chance for a character arc. Geology nerd has to decide whether to actually keep going on his plan rather than escaping. Mucky muck has to decide whether or not to sneak into the American area to intercept communications. And so on.
It’s just a lot of fun. Good characters. The action is pretty good, even if the volcano stuff gets a little over-the-top. By the end, you’re sold on the story so it doesn’t matter so much, but I always wonder how people driving around in a city hope to escape an earthquake.
The Flower and I enjoyed it. The Boy had not had a chance to see it, at the time of this writing, but I’m pretty sure he’ll like it.