Present and future collide in writer-director Lee Jeong-sub’s twisting, ambitious oddball scifi feature debut.
Guilt, forgiveness, agency, self-determination and conquering personal demons drive the so-called story in Fallen, the oddest, most baffling scifi meditation on belonging — the Korean title means stigma — to come down the pipe in a long time. Real writer Lee Jeong-sub, making his feature debut, repeats the twisted storytelling of that 2017 mixed identity mobster crime-scifi oddity to similar effect, though with a more assured hand than that film’s director (Lee Sa-rang) had. Fallen might find a place on the genre circuit for its audacity, but a general release outside its home market in Korea will be hard to come by.
Fallen’s narrative is almost as needlessly convoluted as Real’s. Follow closely: We start with renowned science fiction writer, Baek Jo-kyoung (G Yang) being interviewed about her latest work as well as a revenge porn sex tape she “stars” in that’s making its way around the Internet. After refusing to make a comment on the issue, we follow Jo-kyoung to a bar, where she’s the subject of gossip by some other patrons, including her agent who is trying to convince her to get ahead of the scandal in the media, a film producer considering an adaptation of her next book and a fangirl who may be hitting on her. The next scene sees Jo-kyoung waking up in an abandoned warehouse, ziptied, and surrounded by oil drums housing the people from the party. As she tried to find a way out of her predicament, the bar patrons wake up and start offering advice on a variety of subjects, including her violent mother and eventually her complicity in a friend’s suicide. And she’s been tattooed wit the word “fallen” on her back. Okay.
But then the action switches to an industrial gray basement meeting room, where a group of high-level government types are determining the fate of a serial killer — who’s actually from 2059 who traveled back in time through a sinkhole in Seoul and who might be a cyborg. The future the killer came from is one where Siri has gained sentience (!), governments have corporatized themselves (!!) and Blockchain makes policy and controls the world (!!!). The future killer cyborg wants Jo-kyoung dead because she has an anti-body that’s making the futuristic cyborgs go blind, and in exchange for Jo-kyoung’s life the cyborgs, called Fallen, will give humanity of the present a genetic editing hack, the cure for six deadly illnesses and $65 billion worth of renewable energy sources per year. Three officials stand out, one claiming to be a lawyer, a second representing the Korean government and a third working for the UN’s food division (what, now?). But then the UN guy kills the killer and tries to renegotiate the deal before running off to the warehouse to rescue Jo-kyoung. Plus there’s some gender fluid, leotard-based performance art thrown in for good measure.
Fallen is not bad per se. It’s nothing if not original, and it’s jumbled, ricocheting narrative is just loopy enough to appeal to genre fans hoping repeated viewings will reveal secrets and meanings not grasped on the first go-round. But Fallen is also barely coherent on a basic level, and underwrites its characters to a degree that makes them opaque. One thing Lee hasn’t done is underwrite the story, which is so jam packed with issues and memories for Jo-kyoung to deal with the film nearly collapses under its weight. But as a director Lee clearly has an eye for compelling images, and he and DOP Minu Park find clever ways to frame the action. Tech specs on what was likely a modest budget are strong enough and Lee gets around the scifi demand for futurism by keeping the action intimate and confined.
Production company: Raging Bull Production
Cast: G Yang, Yoon Ha-bin, Han Sung-min, Jang Tae-young, Eun Hyun-gil, Kim Jae-Hyun, Lee Ja-kyoung, Lee Ji-young
Director: Lee Jeong-sub
Screenwriter: Lee Jeong-sub
Executive producer: Lee Jeong-sub
Director of photography: Minu Park
Costume designer: Lee Jae-ryoung
Editor: Minu Park
Music: Michael Choi
World sales: Mirovision
No rating, 114minutes