Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The Moon: A Korean Space Disaster

It is not easy launching rockets into space. Just ask SpaceX. The Korean space agency had a similar (fictional) mishap, but they are trying again. Unfortunately, freak solar flares lead to unexpected problems and the deaths of two crew members trying to make repairs. That leaves Hwang Sun-woo stranded like Sandra Bullock in director-screenwriter Kim Yong-hwa’s The Moon, which opens Friday in New York.

The previous disaster basically ruined the career of the mission director, Kim Jae-guk, but nobody knows the rocket better, so he reluctantly agrees to return to help manage the new crisis. It is particularly awkward for Kim, because Hwang’s father took the blame for the rocket’s explosion with his very public suicide. Now, Kim feels duty bound to save his late colleague’s son.

It will be hard to do so without the help of NASA’s orbiting space station, but the nasty bureaucrats in charge of the agency will not risk the station during an inopportune meteor shower. He only has one potential ally in NASA, the space station mission director, Moon Young, who also happens to be his ex-wife. Obviously, Moon is important, since the film is maybe titled in her honor.

Apparently, Kim Yong-hwa hates NASA more than my college astronomy professor. Frustratingly, that institutional resentment blossoms into an anti-American bile that infects the entire film. (For what its worth, the Korean science minister is also a complete tool.) Regardless, the film inaccurately reflects the current realities of space travel. Sadly, Russia still controls most of the passenger traffic, which is why the success of private enterprises like SpaceX are in the world’s best interest.

Still, Kim manages to devise one convincingly crushing setback after another to the rescue effort. 
The scenes set in space and on the Moon look surprisingly credible. It is just hard to buy into anything that happens on Earth, which should have been the easier parts.

Sol Kyung-gu broods hard as the disgraced Kim, but Ed Harris inspires much more confidence in
Apollo 13. Doo Kyung-soo is way too distant and standoffish as Hwang, especially considering the reserve of Sol’s performance. Kim Hee-ae makes Kim Young probably the most down-to-earth and engaging character of the Moon ensemble, so maybe it really is her movie. The great character actor Lee Sung-min (Shadow Detective) also has limited screentime playing Hwang’s late father in flashbacks, but Kim Yong-hwa perversely does everything he can to undercut his appearances.

Something is definitely out of balance when a film’s axe-grinding against NASA overshadows its human element and the grandeur of space exploration. It should be a much bigger film, in terms of its spirit and vision. A disappointment,
The Moon opens Friday (8/18) in New York, at the AMC Empire.