“Fabricated City” – 2017 New York Asian Film Festival Review

Park Kwang-hyun’s “Fabricated City” (2017) is a mishmash of genres and narrative clichés: a crime drama, a prison thriller, and most obviously a wrong man scenario all wrapped into one convoluted conspiracy narrative. Borrowing liberally from the Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat show Sherlock, the Wachowskis’ “The Matrix” films, and a stack of techno-thrillers, Park instead achieves in making the viewer want to watch the works that he is cribbing from.

Kwon Yoo (Ji Chang-wook) spends a large portion of his time in PC Bangs and is a better than average gamer. Opening with a seven-minute mission, “Captain,” Kwon’s call-sign, leads his team first through a bombed-out urban wasteland and then into a modern looking skyscraper, racing to defuse a bomb that will blow up in a matter of minutes.  He is on complete auto-pilot killing opponents and seemingly dodging every obstacle his enemies throw out at him. He also has the misfortune of answering a ringing smartphone left near him, an act that will have him arrested, accused, and quickly arraigned for rape and murder.

The film then spends mere minutes on the court case and a huge chunk of the second act in prison, which amounts to a long montage of Kwon getting beat up, recovering, and then getting beat up some more. Prison gang boss Ma, played by the versatile actor Kim Sang-ho, is stuck on getting Kwon to respect him.  Although his methods are quite brutal, Kim’s natural gift for comedy makes the character a hilarious counterpoint to the humorless story.

After Kwon’s expected jailbreak, “Fabricated City” completely abandons narrative plausibility as it takes a cue from the film “Hackers” and pairs Kwon up with Yeo-wool (Shim Eun-kyung), a shut-in with an almost godlike ability to access any computer, webcam, or server, yet she constantly needs saving by Kwon. The only one who matches Yeo-wool in hacking ability is the film’s Moriarty, Min Chun-sang (Oh Jung-se), whose every action and gesture exudes villainy. To make sure that audiences don’t mistake him for being anything other than the person we should hiss at, Min sports a rather distracting birthmark over half his face, marking the character automatically as other.  It’s almost as if the director was unsure of how to use character development and engaging dialogue to create a believable antagonist, instead resorting to simply making the bad guy a less than handsome character compared to the young, attractive lead.   Adding to that is an utterly confusing, labyrinthine conspiracy sub-plot introduced later on in the film that involves Min and several high-profile characters. Not to mention, it calls attention to Min’s ability to control all the pieces on the chessboard…until Kwon with the help of Yeo-wool helps to unravel and destroy the conspiracy in just a few days.

Yet, what really annoys is the overabundant use of dei ex machina to move the plot along with absolutely no consequence to Kwon or his friends. A perfect example of this is when Kwon escapes jail, suffering from a stab wound, and needs to get as far away from the search parties looking for him. Not only does a helpful couple with a car appear onscreen, but they give Kwon a ride, protect him when cops start snooping around the car at a road block, and even outright just give him their vehicle. Even Min’s defeat comes right down to a deus ex machina as a mastermind with a computer system so powerful that it can hack into a multiple number of electronic devices, yet at the same time doesn’t have any password protection, encryption software, or the common sense to delete incriminating evidence, is just shoddy screenwriting.

All in all, “Fabricated City” is a disappointing film. Made by a filmmaker who actually directed one of the seminal masterpieces of the Hallyu wave, “Welcome to Dongmakgol” (2005), its promising opening sequence is let down by innumerable narrative issues and confusing plot machinations. As a work of filmic art it may not lack in style, but it definitely suffers from a lack of the other essential ingredients that make a film great.

“Fabricated City” screens at the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival on July 15 at 3 p.m. at the SVA Theater.