Director: Kim Yong-Hwa
Cast: Sul Kyung Gu, Do Kyung Soo, Kim Hee Ae, Park Byung-eun, Jo Han-chul, Choi Byung-mo, Hong Seung-hee, Shim Young-eun, Jo Seung-yeon
Runtime: 2 hr 9 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Intense Sequences)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 9 August 2023
Synopsis: Kim Yong Hwa, one of the most prominent directors in Korean cinema, returns with his most ambitious and spectacular film to date. In the near future, Korea’s first manned mission to the moon ends in a tragiv disaster when an exploision occurs on board. 7 years later, a second human spaceflight is launched successfully but a strong solar wind causes it to malfunction. One astronaut Sun-Woo (DO) is left stranded in space. Facing another fatal catastrophe, the Naro Space Center turns to its former managing director Dr Kim (SUL) to help bring Sun-woo back home safely.
Fans of popstar D.O. aka Do Kyung Soo will be delighted with the release of The Moon. It not only features the return of their idol after a brief mandatory stint in the army but also marks director Kim Yong-hwa’s return to the big screen after the massive success of his Along With the Gods series.
Five years ago, Korea’s first mission to the moon ended disastrously. As a result, the space engineer in charge, Hwang blamed it on himself and committed suicide. The flight director, Dr Kim (Sul Kyung Gu) left to work at a weather station up in the mountainous region probably out of guilt. It’s the year 2029 and Korea is sending yet another team of astronauts to the moon comprising of Commander Li, his engineer and lastly, Hwang Sun-woo, a navy seal turned astronaut.
The mission is simple enough. Reach the moon, gather some samples and travel back to earth. Of course, things aren’t that straight-forward in space. Midway, a solar flare causes their shuttle to malfunction and the subsequent death of Commander Li and his engineer. Sun-woo becomes the sole survivor on the ill-fated mission. Trapped inside the shuttle, the crew at the control station has to brainstorm ways to bring Sun-woo safely back and Dr Kim is once again activated to help in the rescue mission since he is the one who designed the initial version of the space shuttle.
Expectedly, The Moon springs no surprises in terms of narrative unlike Kim’s prior Along With the Gods where heaven, hell and the complexity of celestial realms are explored. In short, The Moon is very much alike to Gravity, the 2013 award-winning space thriller from Alfonso Cuarón except that it’s 30 minutes too long. While Cuarón keeps things to the minimum focusing mainly on the characters of Bullock and Clooney and the occasional appearance of the mission controller, Kim throws in a dramatic arc whereby Hwang happens to be the son of Dr Kim’s colleague who died.
As the story unfolds, The Moon packs a lot of emotional damages along the way making YouTuber Steven He proud. Hwang is persistent to make his father proud and also in an attempt to honour his late teammates, he decides to go ahead and descend to the moon using a Lunar roving vehicle to collect samples from the moon surface as per the mission. Again, the unlucky young lad encountered a deadly meteor shower and Dr Kim has to enlist the help of his ex-wife, Jennifer (Kim Hee-ae) who works at NASA to help rescue him to the nearby shuttle station from the U.S.
Meanwhile in some kind of gender, colour biases or political entanglement, Jennifer is being criticised by her superiors in NASA making the rescue mission more challenging as it is. Director Kim tries his best to keep the momentum going switching from Hwang’s dire situation to the various talking heads at the control station and vice versa. Unfortunately, the scripting lacks the humour of The Martian, the one where Matt Damon has to grow potatoes in space to survive and the tension of Gravity to keep things going for another 30 minutes or so.
Confined by the limits of the script, D.O. is not given much to work with and he spends most of his screentime hurtling and bouncing around in the enclosed shuttle like a trapped hamster on a running wheel. Though veteran Sul Kyung Gu and him shared a few emotional scenes, it’s apparently not enough to fully immerse the viewers in their predicament.
Still, The Moon is a stunning piece of work, showcasing the talents of the visual effects artists responsible for bringing the space environment, equipment, vehicles and very much everything to life. The effects can be summed up in one word- “flawless” especially for a non-Hollywood production. While the human drama is fairly predictable, the impressive technicalities is one reason why you should catch it on the big screen.
(Although an outstanding visual spectacle, it functions overall as a rather boring and familiar survival space drama)
Review by Linus Tee