Incidentally, in these lawless times, the residents retreat into making stricter rules: 1. Our apartments belong to the residents. Only residents may live here; 2. Residents must carry out their duties. Rations are distributed according to one’s contributions; 3. All activities in our apartment complex are based on the democratic consensus of the residents. Those who do not comply cannot live here. This extremism makes for some interesting quandaries as desperation seeps in and scarcity affects people’s behavior.
Director Um Tae-hwa takes a darkly funny, sometimes tragic, view of the future. Even the title “Concrete Utopia” is something of a joke, as the concrete fortress that shelters its residents can only protect them from the elements and not from starvation—among other worries. The boundaries of this wretched future are brought to life in great grimy detail by the director and his creative team, from dirty worn-down jackets to figuring out the logistics of what happens when the water in the building stops running – which you may not want to know, but you will find out! The film shares a rather dystopian look of this future, one reminiscent of “Lord of the Flies” and its unraveling of civilization in the face of dire circumstances. Despite its bleak outlook, it is not entirely devoid of hope, which is how the movie and the apartment residents continue to soldier on towards survival.
The highlight of the film belongs to the film’s trio of main characters, acting civil servant Min-sung, nurse Myung-hwa, and outsider Yeong-tak. As Min-Sung, Park Seo-jun pulls off an incredible job wrestling with his conscious behind wordless, wide-eyed expressions just as his wife, played by Park Bo-young, fights for the goodness of humanity and hopes it will prevail against the odds. Hers is the calm hope that keeps the film moving forward while everyone dithers with internal politics, a facet of the story made complicated by Lee Byung-hun’s shifty Yeong-tak, a complex character Um carefully builds over the course of events.