Fabricated City Review
Fabricated City (2017) Film Review from the 16th Annual New York Asian Film Festival, a movie directed by Kwang-Hyun Park, and starring Chang-wook Ji, Sang-Ho Kim, Eun-Kyung Shim, Jeong-Se Oh, Jae-Hong Ahn, Min-Jung Bae, Ha-Nui Lee, Min-gyo Kim, Seul-gi Kim, Won-cheol Shim, and Ho-jung Kim.
Fabricated City opened with a bang, and ended with a bang; but was at its most satisfying getting from point A to point B. You may just have to keep from being too distracted by the bookends, is all. Once you get away from all the slam-bang wizardry, you might find it to be a fairly clever thriller. Unfortunately, the film only really works taken as straight line, rather than the circuit that was ultimately attempted.
Ignore the effort to make the film’s better, subtler qualities work for its lesser, louder ones, and you might actually enjoy it better; but be warned: the louder bits were pretty loud.
Honestly, if you stop to think about it, you’ll realize that live-action Gamer-level violence is every bit as desensitizing as the digital kind. So, I stopped stopping to think about it, pretty much from the opening engagement. That, of course, boosted my power of suspension-of-disbelief to serviceable levels – allowing me to not completely dismiss everything I was seeing, from the get-go.
Good thing, too, otherwise I might’ve missed that being the initial point, to Fabricated City. Sure, the title gave me hope, that this was the case, but I’ve been cutting back on getting my hopes up, lately.
Hopefully without giving too much away, Fabricated City took a stab at an idea that fans of Sword Art Online & Deadman Wonderland might appreciate. You won’t have to be a fan of these, to appreciate Fabricated City, however. Even if you do catch on quick, the film should be commended for the effort – regardless of the results.
The opening scene demonstrated how seriously some Gamers take their craft, while establishing the groundwork for some IRL relationship dynamics. This factors in, after Kwon Yoo (Chang-wook Ji) – ace Gamer, loser IRL – is framed in irrefutable fashion, and sentenced to life in a Maximum Security prison. His Public Defender, Min Cheong-sang (Jeong-se Oh), takes up the case, thanks to the efforts of Kwon’s mother; but once word of her suicide gets back to him, both Kwon, and the film, underwent something of a transition.
Initially, his time inside was the usual horror of enduring prison culture. The transition concluded this act with a daring confrontation with his chief tormentor – gang boss, Ma Deok-soo, made surprisingly entertaining by Sang-ho Kim – and a prison break.
Fortunately, the path from victim to action hero was already paved, going in. A bit of supplied resolve (and tips from someone with the most sinister of insights, into how to apply basic talents) made up the remaining ground. Where Kwon learned tactical offensive driving, I have no idea; but that wouldn’t be a factor until later.
Don’t bother holding on to one act of leniency, at this point, however – it sort of went nowhere. Another plot element, involving a second designated patsy, didn’t go very far, either.
I will admit that the foreigner element took me by surprise, for a second; but it was a well-handled, well-thought out addition. The combination of xenophobia & Ugly American syndrome spoke for itself – facilitating the story without taking too much time for exposition.
Once Kwon got to ground, however, that Gamer intro started to pay off, cast wise, and the film revealed its true nature. Fabricated City wasn’t just a crime mystery/ redemption quest; it was a cautionary tale about how seriously the rest of us should be taking a World increasingly turned into a virtual shell-game. A virtual shell-game tailor made for singularly talented Puppetmasters.
As I had mentioned earlier, my Anime training gave me some spoiler privilege; but the Puppetmaster reveal shouldn’t come as too much of a twist to anyone paying close attention. The very nature of the film demanded critical thinking – for better, or worse.
Enter, ‘Mr. Hairy.’ I’ve been around long enough (and sufficiently wary of virtual interaction) to guess the identity twist to this character; but the twist to Mr. Hairy’s in-person communication method was a novel one. More importantly, it immediately established characteristics often applied virtual life types – but in an intriguing way. Mr. Hairy was not your typical internet introvert. Mr. Hairy was also the perfect segue intro, for the rest of Kwon’s real-life team mates.
At this point, you’ll likely appreciate some of the attention to detail, in general, that followed the plot. I also appreciated specific details. How detail oriented Min was, for example, or the condition of his car & how he drove it – painting a decent picture of what could be expected from such a character.
I suppose the first big takeaway, from Fabricated City, was its very perverse twist on the Crime Scene Forensics genre. There, the Devil is always in the details. Here, the details were the Devil – and I got a kick out of that. I also appreciated that the script may have been playing to how that genre has left many taking forensic evidence for granted.
Of course, a script that relies heavily on detail sets itself up for even minor lapses.
There were some convenient short cuts, along the way; and maybe even a few plot holes. Mr. Hairy’s resource source was a glaring omission; it should’ve been harder for Kwon to get around in public – even with Mr. Hairy’s help; and a SWAT operation should know how to secure a perimeter. More troubling: a much bigger, more resourceful operation should’ve made short work of Kwon’s IRL team, once it discovered him; but these were most noticeable because of that emphasis on detail. A lot of films should have this problem.
It was still a problem, however.
Between the character of the film’s principal antagonist, and the efficiency of his operation, there shouldn’t have been as many exploitable gaps as there was, facilitating a conflict escalation. More disappointing was the main antagonist character break – even if it did serve to set-up the climax as a parallel between Kwon’s IRL team, and his virtual one (which was a nice touch, otherwise).
One sentimental scene, earlier in the film, lent itself to a climactic moment I can only describe as Daredevil cool. However, that latter use really kind of came out of nowhere. It also proved that it wouldn’t have cost Kwon to seize a previous opportunity to do some lasting damage. This sort of rewarded the antagonist character break, and that sort of annoyed me. The character break did at least give the IRL team some breathing room – since the antagonist was having too much fun to be efficient – but seemed way too cliche for this material.
There was also the unwelcomed return of that need to suspend disbelief, once the film started to recall previous elements. On the up-side, however, Sang-ho Kim maintained the entertainment value of his Ma character, throughout this phase. It is a shame when the Second Seat upstages the main act, though.
I suppose the second, larger takeaway was that you should really fear the future, kids – it’s been here long enough to make you way too comfortable to see just how easily your life can be remotely controlled.
However, the slight disconnect, between set-up & execution, resolved the presented issue too neatly to generate the kind of lasting impact that a more consistent plot, and more cynical cautionary tale (like, say, The Conversation) would have likely left. You could call it a Game Cheat, I guess; but I fear an IRL scenario wouldn’t allow itself to be resolved in such a fashion.
That’s just what the IRL Puppetmasters want you to think.
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