Monday, November 25, 2013

11 AM—Korea Takes a Stab at Time Travel

Woo-seok’s shady Russian oligarch patron named his prospective time machine “Trotsky” in the belief history would have turned out radically better if he had bested Stalin in their power struggle.  They should have called “Ice-Pick,” considering the mayhem it will cause Woo-seok’s research team.  They will struggle to cheat fate in Kim Hyun-seok’s 11 A.M. (trailer here), which opens this Thanksgiving Thursday in Los Angeles.

Everyone knows Woo-seok’s obsession with time travel stems from the untimely death of his wife, regardless of what Hawking says about it.  Likewise, many suspect his protégé Young-eun hopes to meet her late theoretical physicist father in the future. His chief deputy Ji-wan is more skeptical.  Nonetheless, their wheelchair-bound benefactor ponied up the funds for their undersea facility for his own personal reasons.  Unfortunately, the financial spigot will be cut-off unless Woo-seok produces results fast.  Against Ji-wan’s advice, he and Young-eun embark on a journey to tomorrow, at 11:00 a.m.

The good news is Trotsky works.  The bad news is they discover the lab has been (or will be) destroyed by a series of explosions.  As they investigate, Woo-seok is attacked by a mysterious assailant.  Whisked back to the previous (current) day without Young-eun, Woo-seok and his crew must determine the source of the impending disaster, as the clock ticks down.

As time travel films go, 11 AM’s internal logic holds together fairly well, explaining its big head-scratching twists in due time. It also has a patina of credibility in the way it acknowledges Hawking’s event horizon.  Yet, despite the sci-fi MacGuffin, it is human nature rather than science that poses the gravest danger in Park Su-jin’s screenplay.

Frankly, Korean film fans will be surprised to discover Kim Hyun-seok, previously a specialist in jaunty rom-com’s, like Cyrano Agency, had this in him.  He nicely balances the more macabre Final Departure-Then There Were None elements with the cerebral scientific speculation.  Production designer Kim Minio’s team also creates a credible sci-fi environment, before it all gets blown to smithereens.

The cast goes to piece rather effectively as well.  As Woo-seok, Jung Jae-young is wound wickedly tight, while still exhibiting the intellectual facilities of a man of science.  Likewise Kim Ok-bin makes the most of Young-eun’s big revelation scenes, the likes of which actors only get in genre films.

Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes is still probably the gold standard of contemporary time travel movies, but 11 A.M. is a smart and grabby addition to the sub-genre canon.  Sort of a SF chamber drama, but with first rate production values, 11 A.M. is recommended pretty enthusiastically for time travel fans when it opens this Thanksgiving (11/28) in Los Angeles at the CGV Cinemas.