Ji Chang-wook finds himself entangled in a web of high-stakes intrigue in this techno-thriller. Ji plays Kwon Yoo, a former taekwondo champion who is now jobless and spends his days gaming at the internet café. He’s the leader of a team called Resurrection, which includes Yeo-wool (Shim), Demolition (Ahn), Negative Space (Kim Ki Cheon) and Yong (Kim Min-kyo). Kwon Yoo is framed for rape and murder. He is immediately vilified in the media, and Kwon Yoo’s mother (Kim Ho-jung) seeks the help of lawyer Min Cheon-sang (Oh) to exonerate her son. The evidence against Kwon Yoo is too strong, and he is locked up in a supermax prison. While there, he becomes a target of fearsome mobster Ma Deok-soo (Kim Sang-ho). Kwon Yoo’s online teammates, whom he has never met in real life, must prove Kwon Yoo’s innocence, each using their own unique skillset to expose a far-reaching conspiracy.
Fabricated City is a difficult film to describe. It’s not quite a straightforward crime thriller, nor is it really about online gaming. The film marks the comeback of writer-director Park Kwang-hyun, who helmed the Korean War-set comedy-drama Welcome to Dongmakgol 12 years ago. With its twisty plot and intricately-staged action sequences, Fabricated City is an ambitious undertaking which yields sometimes-impressive results. While Park sustains a nervous energy throughout, the film can be too frenetic, as if it’s hopped up on energy drinks. Fabricated City also suffers from obvious tonal issues: there are dark, harrowing scenes and depictions of brutal violence, but there’s also very broad comedy. It’s as if the prison-set portion of Fabricated City is from a completely different film than the scenes of the team pulling off their heist. It takes a bit of effort to keep up, but Park devises fiendishly clever gambits and the central mystery remains engaging throughout.
The Kwon Yoo character is absolutely put through the wringer, and is easy to root for. He handles the dramatic moments and the numerous action beats with equal confidence, and it will tear his legions of fans apart to see him endure his prison ordeal. As necessitated by the plot however, the expert gamer is somehow an action hero in real life. Sure, the character’s past on the South Korean national Taekwondo team explains his martial arts prowess, but not his precision stunt driving skills.
Backing Kwon Yoo up is a loveable band of misfits. The crew, which includes an expert hacker (a pre-requisite for any action movie team), a special effects technician, a professor and a porn star amongst others has a strong underdog vibe. This is especially evident because they’re going up against powerful figures with tremendous political pull. The second half of the film is a heist/caper tale, with the Resurrection team employing nifty subterfuge to stay one step ahead of the villains. We’ve seen sullen hacker girls in action movies before, but Shim Eun-kyung brings a certain something to the role of Yeo-wool, especially when juxtaposed against the sillier members of the team. Kim Min-kyo, a cast member of Saturday Night Live Korea, is on hand to provide comic relief.
There are a handful of plot contrivances in Fabricated City and it’s more than a little obvious who the villainous mastermind is, but it’s still tightly-plotted and thrilling. In between the fights and pursuits, Fabricated City sneaks in commentary about how convincing media-spun narratives around criminal cases can be. Director Park serves up car chases that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood blockbuster, and our scrappy team of gamers is an endearing bunch. It’s a bit of an odd duck of an action film, at once familiar and weirdly alien, but more often than not, Fabricated City works.
Summary: While its tonal shifts are jarring and its frenzied pace can be exhausting, Fabricated City has enough reasonably clever tricks up its sleeve.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars