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Natural City
  |     review    |     availability     |

Natural City

Availability:

DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
KD Media Inc.
2-Disc Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Various Featurettes and Galleries

*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc



 
Korean: 내츄럴 시티
Year: 2003
Director: Min Byung-Chun
Cast: Yoo Ji-Tae, Lee Jae-Eun, Seo Rin, Yoon Chan, Ko Joo-Hee, Jung Eun-Pyo, Shin Goo, Yeom Chun-Bae, Jung Doo-Hong
The Skinny: Aesthetically impressive but somewhat disappointing sci-fi flick which borrows liberally from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. The setup and initial conflicts are the stuff great sci-fi is made of, but the way everything crumbles feels like wannabe blockbuster filmmaking.

Review
by Kozo:

If you're talking about production design, then Natural City is impressive stuff. The big-budget Korean science fiction film features a beautiful, meticulously designed futuristic setting which qualifies as eye candy par excellence. The story itself is no less ambitious; the film tells the tale of deviant cyborgs who run amok just days before they're scheduled to expire. Their prize: continuing life. The other prize: a free DVD of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, which features suspicously similar production design and another plot about rogue cyborgs ("replicants") who are searching for extended life. Hey, not every film that comes out of Korea is grade-A original.

Not that Natural City really tries to be. It takes some of the cooler aspects of Blade Runner (the man-machine dynamic, the terror of artifically-induced lifespans, dirty neon cityscapes) and pretty much copies them with no excuses. It also provides Matrix-inspired action, and throws in a minor twist which eschews Blade Runner's existentialism for evil mad scientist plotting and even more excuses to blow things up. If you think you can eat your cake and have it too, you might as well try. They apparently did that here. Part sci-fi existential downer and part kick-ass action extravaganza, Natural City attempts to placate both the thinkers and the bloodthirsty in one glorious widescreen go.

Plot for those who care: future cop R (Yoo Ji-Tae of Ditto) is a member of the government-sanctioned cyborg-hunting squad designed to take down deviant cyborgs who betray their purpose and start turning humans to pulp. A disrespectful, borderline traitorous cop, R clashes with top cop Noma (Yoon Chan) on an operation to take down deviant cyborg Cypher (Jong Doo-Hong). R's other problem: he's in love with Ria (Seo Rin), an expiring cyborg dancer who's the center of R's existence. R would gladly betray his friends and his job to somehow save Ria from the scrapheap. He might have a way, but it requires kidnapping a wayward prostitute (Lee Jae-Eun), whose particular DNA might be the key to Ria's continued existence. Meanwhile, Noma gets closer to R's illicit activities, and deviant cyborgs continue to run amok. All this and cool settings.

It must be said again: the production design is damn fine. What director Min Byung-Chun and company have accomplished here rivals anything out of Hollywood's SFX handbook, and probably at a fraction of the cost. Admittedly, the look of the film is far from original, but the filmmakers have bridged the gap between concept and execution remarkably well. We should all clap respectfully at their technological prowess.

We should also shake our heads disapprovingly at how the whole house of cards collapses. Despite the cool look and solid sci-fi setup, Natural City pretty much caves in beneath commercial concerns, overblown melodrama, and that pesky thing called movie logic. In the world of Natural City, cyborgs are hellishly powerful creatures who can tear through a pack of heavily armed cops like a hot knife through butter. Blood flies, limbs are amputated, and a general bad time is had by all humans in attendance. However, these rules DO NOT apply when one of the main supercop heroes brandishes a gun. When either R or Noma is at the controls, everything goes into slow motion and suddenly the cyborgs drop like flies. Why these two possess such ungodly skill is no secret: the script requires them to! Everyone else is a red shirt from Star Trek.

Natural City basically attempts to do too much with too little to back itself up. It tries to be serious sci-fi stuff, but any and all existential ruminations are limited to the touchy-feely romance between a man and an artificial woman. The action is manufactured, and also a little muddled. The carnage is kind of cool, but not entirely consistent. Also, the characters aren't terribly likable. Yoo Ji-Tae is a charismatic actor, but R is an out-and-out bastard whose selfishness should have gotten him court-martialed umpteen years ago. If the audience still likes the guy, then they should qualify for sainthood.

There are also vaguely defined concepts ("neural transfers") which are the deux ex-machina of Natural City. Basically, a pseudo-sci-fi solution is the key to all. However, in grand Korean Cinema style, tragedy and bad vibes are nearly guaranteed. If you've seen any Korean Cinema before, you should know this: it's going to get melodramatic, and if the filmmakers can pull it off, they'll send all their characters straight to hell in a body bag. Natural City falls in line like a good soldier, which takes any and all grand sci-fi aspirations and reduces them to more wannabe blockbuster stuff out of the Korean Cinema fun factory. Bottom line: Natural City is fine eye candy and a tease of something possibly greater. It's also unsuccessful at being anything other than glossy thrills and manufactured melodrama, and is nowhere near as good as Blade Runner. (Kozo 2004)


 
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