Review: Pandora (2016)

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Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

Co-posted at Still Just Alison

Prepare to be gruelled. This film will take every tender feeling you possess and run them through the mincer, then stomp on the bits.

The hero of the story is Jae Hyeok, brought to life by the incredibly talented Kim Nam Gil. This is not the sex-incarnate Kim Nam Gil of Bad Guy, or the lovable doofus turned responsible doctor of Live Up To Your Name, or the arse-kicking priest of Fiery Priest. No, this Kim Nam Gil is almost unrecognisable – Jae Hyeok is a lazy, truculent, loser, who complains about the nuclear plant at which he works, and disappoints his mother and his girlfriend.

I’m not in love with the script – there were scenes that felt too contrived, and the characters weren’t always consistent, although the presence of so many excellent actors helped to smooth over these deficiencies to some degree.

Nonetheless, the basic premise of the film is strong, and will resonate with far too many people: those who are employed or elected to lead, and given the title and commensurate compensation, yet who always seem to abdicate their responsibility the instant things get tough, leaving it to those on the margins to do what must be done.

The phrase “scathing indictment” is overused, but that’s what this film is: an indictment of politicians concerned only about preserving their positions and protecting their donors, and of corporate executives and lackeys intent on covering up a nuclear accident even at the cost of thousands of lives.

It also has what I consider to be one of the best definitions of heroism out there. Read on for more…

SPOILERS AHEAD – BE WARNED

Now I like a good superhero as much as the next person, but real heroes are just not like that. For starters, they tend not to wear their underpants on the outside, at least not during the day. What real heroes do, is the unpleasant, dangerous, sacrificing-your-own-life-so-that-others-might-live stuff. Walking with open eyes into that fiery pit because a few people you love, and a whole lot of strangers you don’t even know, are at risk, even though you’re scared shitless and you know you’re going to die and those at fault are getting away scot-free.

That is what real heroes do.

And that’s why the real jarring note for me was the extreme overuse of violins in the soundtrack. I mean honestly, when the man’s being sealed into a chamber before he explodes the bomb that’s going to bring a pile of spent fuel rods and a mass of coolant down on top of him, and he’s live on TV saying his farewells to his mother, sister-in-law, and girlfriend, crying the ugly cry while saying “I’m afraid, it’s not fair, I don’t want to die”, there’s no need for sodding violins, okay? They just get in the way. We do understand that it’s heart-rending – me, I was definitely doing the ugly cry right along with him, but those bloody violins made it sound like daytime soap opera.

And just in case you think the scenario is completely unrealistic, it’s actually pretty close to what 3 men did 30 years ago at Chernobyl. Sometimes there really are no good choices, so someone has to step up and make the hard decisions, and often that someone is the one we least expect, as in this case.

Alison blogs at Still Just Alison, where she writes about Korean drama, movies, music, and, very occasionally, things that aren’t Korean. But only occasionally.

7 desperate decisions out of 10.
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