“Concrete Utopia” opens with a riveting visual narrative, tracing Seoul’s remarkable journey from post-war ruins to becoming one of the costliest real estate markets in the world. This frenzied period of phenomenal economic growth allowed many Seoulites to get rich overnight just by buying and selling their precious apartments. This backdrop sets the stage for an apocalyptic twist when an earthquake devastates the city, leaving survivors to seek shelter in the only remaining apartment building left standing in the city.
“Concrete Utopia,” was one of the biggest hits at the Korean box office in 2023 and is now streaming globally on Viki Rakuten. A solid addition to the post-apocalyptic genre, the film is based on a webtoon called “Cheerful Outcast”. Under the direction of Um Tae-hwa, the film stars Lee Byung-hun in a standout role as the appointed leader. Accompanying Lee is a talented ensemble including Park Bo-young and Kim Sun-young (“Reply 1988”), alongside Park Seo-joon of “Itaewon Class” fame, whose talent is sadly underutilized in this film.
Exploring themes of leadership, community, and the human instinct for survival, one of the film’s notable achievements is its commentary on societal issues as it presents both the nobler and darker sides of humanity. In desperate times, when is it justified to harm others for the sake of one’s own well-being?
Visually stunning, “Concrete Utopia” boasts spectacular special effects and cinematography that vividly contrasts the desolate streets of post-earthquake Seoul with the fragile safety of its sole surviving apartment building.
Well-paced, the film maintains tension and intrigue throughout with plenty of unexpected twists and turns. “Concrete Utopia” may tread some familiar ground for fans of the genre, feeling a bit like “Lord of the Flies meets “Alive”. However, the occasional genre tropes do not significantly detract from the overall quality of the film.
Portraying the psychological and social dynamics that emerge when individuals are forced to coexist under extreme circumstances, “Concrete Utopia” is an entertaining watch that combines action, suspenseful storytelling, and plenty of food for thought.
Watch “Concrete Utopia” on Viki Rakuten.