'Fabricated City': Film Review

Fabricated City Film Still 3 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of TPS Company
Indirect social commentary cloaked in action trappings.

Park Kwang-hyun's follow-up to Korean War drama 'Welcome to Dongmakgol' is a stylishly high-tech revenge thriller.

Playing like an updated version of Park Chan-wook's Oldboy set in the world of online video games, Park Kwang-hyun's Fabricated City tracks the efforts of a desperate gamer to uncover the forces behind his unjustified imprisonment for murder. Featuring a fast-paced plot and a snappy visual style, Park's absorbing third feature should appeal equally to high-tech enthusiasts and action film fans. 

As the leader of the online video game combat unit Resurrection, skilled tactician Kwon Yu (Ji Chang-wook) has a reputation for putting his talented team members first, including a rebellious hacker, a persecuted tech whiz and a misfit demolitions expert. In reality, Kwon's life is anything but heroic, as he struggles with chronic unemployment after getting cut from the national tae kwon do squad for assaulting a teammate.

Still living at home with his mother, Kwon dodges his responsibilities by spending most of his time at an Internet cafe immersed in the virtual combat world along with the other players. His life turns suddenly surreal however when he's summarily arrested and charged with raping and murdering a minor after returning an abandoned cell phone to a mysterious female caller.

Facing overwhelming forensic evidence but with no recollection of the crimes he's accused of committing, Kwon gets convicted during a disorientingly swift trial. His public defender Min (Oh Jeong-se) encourages him to admit his guilt in hopes of a reduced sentence, but Kwon maintains his innocence, resulting in a life term without parole. Totally unprepared to survive in prison, Kwon is immediately targeted by hardened inmate Ma (Kim Sang-ho) with repeated beatings. Only with the help of a resourceful serial killer does he manage an unlikely escape.

As Kwon attempts to evade a nationwide manhunt, he’s contacted by his old video game teammates, who have been independently investigating his case, finding evidence of a mysterious underworld organization that may be responsible for his conviction. With the police dragnet closing in and released prisoner Ma relentlessly tracking him down, Kwon and his allies will need to combine forces to avoid arrest and prove his innocence. 

Park's action-oriented script is distinguished by its emphasis on indirect social commentary regarding South Korea's socioeconomic inequalities and the perceived untouchability of social and political elites. It's no coincidence that Kwon and his gamer cohorts are unemployed outsiders seeking retaliation against their more wealthy and powerful adversaries, who are all looking for scapegoats to take the blame for their clandestine crimes.

The unconventional casting of a young woman (Shim Eun-kyung) as the expert hacker from Kwon's online gaming team gathering evidence to exonerate him similarly contradicts social expectations, particularly because of her expertise as a strategic collaborator rather than a typical romantic interest.

Although the film's rapid-fire plotting sometimes seems rather ungainly, Park still delivers plenty of creatively conceived high-tech surveillance sequences, intricately staged car chases and unexpectedly visceral fight scenes without resorting to a hackneyed imitation of video game aesthetics.

Distributor: CJ Entertainment
Production company: TPS Company
Cast: Ji Chang-wook, Shim Eun-kyung, Ahn Jae-hong, Oh Jeong-se, Kim Sang-ho
Director-screenwriter: Park Kwang-hyun
Producer: Kim Hyun-chol
Executive producer: Jeong Tae-sung
Director of photography: Nam Dong-keun
Production designer: Oh Kyou-tec
Costume designer: Cho Sang-kyung
Music: Kim Tae-seong
Editor: Kim Zino

Not rated, 126 minutes