Shamrockmom goes to The Source: A movie review of “Fabricated City” with Ji Chang Wook

A/N:  I’m going to break this up into four parts: a review of the CGV theater complex in Buena Park, a quick non-spoiler review of the movie, a longer and spoilery outline of the movie, and a discussion of the social commentary and thoughts about the movie. You can scroll through to what interests you….or read the whole thing!

A little background:  It’s no secret I love action movies and TV shows. The “Die Hard” movies with Bruce Willis? Yep, seen ’em all! “Fast and Furious”? Loved the earlier ones, the later ones a bit less. (“Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift” is my favorite). I went nuts for “City Hunter” and “Healer” too. I might get some of this from my late mother–her favorite actor was Jason Statham and she was always ready to watch whatever action flick he was in! Especially if he was shirtless. Ah, genetics! It’s hard to fight it. Especially if you don’t want to!  🙂

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My late mom’s idea of a good day at the beach!    Photo as credited.

Part One:

The newer Buena Park/Fullerton/La Mirada Koreatown in the OC is like a shiny new suburb when compared to the gritty urban DTLA Koreatown with its narrow streets and legendary lack of parking. It’s growing by leaps and bounds–and that’s just since I went to La Habra to see “Veteran” about 18 months ago. There are brand new multi-story buildings, and the tenants are almost all Korean businesses. More are on the way. The crown jewel of this area is a mega-size shopping center in Buena Park called The Source. It’s only 30 minutes from my home. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, the new CGV theater opened up in late January. The food court is still mostly under construction, but will house a multitude of restaurants; predominantly Korean but I believe there will be a few American places as well. Here’s another recent article with more details. I saw a sign for Popeye’s Chicken, and I gotta wonder how that will play out versus Korean fried chicken.

Unlike DTLA, parking here is free and plentiful. It’s easy to find the complex, easy to get back onto the street and easy to get back to the freeway of your choice. The parking structure has plenty of signage to direct patrons where to park adjacent to the theater. It’s a convenient and well thought out setup. As I walked in, I got to watch some traditional Korean dancers for a few moments before I went into the theater. That was a nice surprise!

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The dancer pulled Haraboji in for a part of the dance!

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I was about 4 stories above the stage. They finished before I could get a closer pic.

CGV theaters are an extension of CJ Entertainment. They also put on the KCON concerts and conventions. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Good–they usually go first class all the way. Bad–they are not always organized and there are technical glitches here and there.

The concession stand blows any US theater concession stand right out of the water. Flavored popcorn is the hot ticket here–and you can get half and half if you can’t decide on one flavor. They have the Coke freestyle soda machines that let you customize your soda 127 different ways. There’s even a bar! I didn’t see the Korean seaweed snacks or the dried squid snacks I’d heard about, but since I was going to try a new place to get Korean-Mexican food for dinner afterwards, I didn’t get anything from the concession stand.

You also get assigned seating, although the young lady at the ticket window was quick to inform me that after the movie started, I could move if I didn’t like my seat. I was thrilled to get an aisle seat with no problems; it’s easier to write notes that way and deal with my claustrophobia issues. Online tickets aren’t available yet–technical glitches. Same with their membership club benefits, which knocks a buck off each ticket. It’s not up and running yet; although you can sign up you can’t get any benefits. There are also kiosks to buy tickets outside, but they were not functional either.

Everyone who worked at the theater spoke fluent Korean and fluent English. It was a trip hearing someone switch back and forth effortlessly between the two languages. Sigh…another life goal of mine!

The theater was about 3/4 full; darn good for a late Sunday matinee. The ticket was 100% worth it at $13.50 USD–even at a dollar more than typical local theaters. Prices go up for the 4DX and ScreenX special effects theaters. (Check out the ScreenX link–I’d go back and watch “Gosanja” in a heartbeat to see it in ScreenX mode!) The theater was spotlessly clean on a level that no local theater playing US movies could possibly achieve. That alone justifies the ticket cost. There were big, comfortable, well padded high-back seats to sit in–and those weren’t even the premium seats that recline with the tables and cell phone chargers. Those will set you back $21.50 per ticket! Because the theater was well planned out you could see the giant curved screen even if someone was sitting right in front of you. The sound system was A+. No hissing/popping sounds; the movie volume was loud but not obnoxiously so. One reason I love to go see Kmovies at the theater is that the (mostly) Korean patrons are not rude jerks like I’ve encountered in local theaters that show US movies. No cell phones ring during the movie. No one talks loudly. No one brings little children to a movie meant for adults. No one kicks your seat or puts their feet up on the seat in front of them. Nice!

I was the only non-Asian person in the entire theater complex and shopping center. For a moment, I got the feeling that this is what it might be like if I was visiting a new movie theater complex in Seoul. Except for the few signs in English I could have been fooled. I hope this place is gonna be a total Seoul-LA fusion experience when it’s completed. I like how they named this place “The Source”. After all, Seoul is “The Source” of my addiction to Kdramas and all that encompasses, including the food seen in shows and movies that the TV stars are in. I can’t wait until the entire complex is finished. Why go to DTLA? This area is gonna be just as good if not better very soon.Even Madang Plaza in DTLA had a opening phase. Perhaps the Dramabeans crew could consider this area for a future meetup.

Part Two:

So now onto the FC movie review…before the spoilers.

I liked it. It was definitely fast paced, and the two hours flew by quickly. The movie seemed to have much more of a “Hollywood” feel to it than other Kmovies I’ve seen, although I felt that the camerawork was too shaky from time to time. Plenty of CGI scenes and stunts here which are executed flawlessly. I was impressed with the creativity of the action scenes. If you like action movies like the more recent “Fast and Furious” movies, with outrageous stunts and lots of people getting beat up, blown up and/or shot, you’ll like this one. The car chases are also well choreographed and very fun to watch–I love car chase scenes so these are important to me. There is literally zero romance in the movie. The basic premise was nothing new, but why reinvent the wheel if it works just fine with a creative tweak here and there. Tons of fodder for social commentary on a number of subjects, which is presented in a non-preachy manner. I always enjoy that aspect of Kdramas and Kmovies. I believe US audiences would totally love this movie, especially the younger Millennial generation that is familiar with online computer gaming. I am lucky that my older son does some online gaming, so I have at least a basic understanding of the concepts in the movie and the computer gamer jargon.

FC is not rated. If I had to rate it–Strong R, due to the high violence level and loads of swearing. No nudity. 18+ would be good, 21+ would be best. Don’t bring the kiddos. The movie violence is understandable given the subject matter, although there was one scene in the prison that freaked me out. I can’t even write about it here. It could have been cut and left on the floor of the editing room with no overall impact to the movie.

Here’s the Eng subbed trailer from CJ Entertainment if you have not already seen it:

 

Part Three: The spoilers:

(Please forgive any errors–I’ve only seen it once and it moves very quickly. I couldn’t even take notes like I usually do.)

Kwon Yu (Ji Chang Wook) is a hotshot MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) computer gamer, and leads a fictional squad of players who’ve named their group “Resurrection”. KY is called “Captain” by the other members of the group. It’s understandable that he plays this game at the local PC-bang (aka Internet Cafe) to forget about the fact he’s unemployed and his family is poor. His single mom is a caretaker for the elderly in a nursing home. No idea what happened to Dad. We also find out that he used to be a champion Tae Kwon Do competitor, but it was unclear to me why he was not doing that anymore–this review said he was kicked off the National team for assaulting a fellow teammate. I totally missed that part in the movie. I emailed Cherkell who runs the  Ji Chang Wook’s Kitchen fansite to get the scoop, and KY did indeed get kicked off the team for that reason. (Thanks Cherkell!) Kwon Yu is a young man who seems very sweet, unassuming and passive, although his character in the video game world is smart, intense, tough, and a charismatic leader. It’s quite the contrast.

He finds a cellphone at the PC-bang and  a young lady calls it and says she left the phone there. She offers him $300 to deliver the phone to her, and he obliges willingly. He drops off the phone at her apartment, goes home…and then his life takes a huge left turn. Suddenly the SWAT team is breaking down his door and he’s being arrested for the rape and brutal stabbing murder of an underage girl. The media seizes on this story like a dog with a bone. KY is portrayed as an unemployed video-game addicted nutcase. There are people in the streets shouting for him to be executed, or castrated and thrown in jail for life without parole. The evidence is overwhelming…his blood is at the crime scene, his DNA is on the victim, and the weapon has his handprints. The creepy and weird public defender (Oh Jung Se) is barely interested in his case, and advises him to plead guilty and get it over with. Only his mom believes her son is innocent.

Not surprisingly, he is convicted and sent to a maximum security prison for life without parole. KY is woefully unprepared from a mental standpoint to go into an environment like this. He’s almost immediately targeted by the prison gang leader Ma Deok Soo (Kin Sang Ho) and you can bet that KY is mercilessly beaten to a pulp over and over again, and then thrown in solitary confinement as he always seems to get blamed for being the instigator. The horrific scene I talked about in the non-spoiler part is here, and even though I was braced for a violent movie, this one scene got to me. It was what was implied and what was heard (and thankfully not shown onscreen) that was so disturbing.

KY attracts the attention of the older ahjussi serial killer that is imprisoned with him. This guy keeps to himself, growing some kind of garden in the corner of the prison yard. In a fantastic plot twist, he reveals that he knows KY must’ve been a Tae Kwon Do champ, because he protects vital points on his body when he’s getting the stuffing beat out of him by Ma and his gang. He gives him some leaves to heal his wounds (which KY almost eats because he’s so hungry) and plots a way for KY to escape the prison which includes stabbing himself with a shiv in just the right spot so he misses vital organs and it looks bad enough for a hospital visit. How crazy is it that the serial killer is actually a good guy? Talk about your anti-hero! The escape doesn’t quite go as planned, but KY does get out of the prison and a nationwide manhunt ensues to capture him.

KY finds two hyperactive and adorable American tourists by the side of the road with their broken down mini-car and he fixes it. They end up giving him a lift and aiding his escape. The husband and wife are nearly unhinged with glee about visiting Korea and they speak bad but understandable Korean with some English thrown in. It’s perfect comic relief at this point. I would give anything to see a multi-episode TV show with these two Americans touring Korea. They are hysterically funny while being respectful to the people and culture. The couple give KY the car at the airport since they bought the mini-car jalopy for a couple of hundred bucks to tour the country, and now they don’t need it. One of the best moments of the film is when the tourist wife hugs KY goodbye (she outweighs him by at least 20o lbs and is just as tall as he is) and the look on his face…..well, you gotta see the movie! What a lucky woman she is!

KY manages to evade the authorities long enough to get back to visit his Public Defender. The PD still thinks he’s guilty, calls the cops on him, and KY is on the run again. He gets back to the PC-bang and tries to get some evidence of his innocence, and checks in with his online gamer pals. Turns out they’ve been doing some snooping around, and they also believe he is innocent. KY ends up meeting one of his teammates “Mr. Hairy” in a warehouse. We then find out that Mr. Hairy is actually a girl (Shim Eun Kyung) who looks so much like Ally Sheedy’s character in “The Breakfast Club” I nearly did a double-take:

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(Sorry the pics came out small, but you get the idea. Image of Ally Sheedy from quotesgram.com and Shim Eun Kyung from Asianwiki.com)

Turns out her RL name is Yeo Wool, and she lives in the warehouse with this unbelievably huge gaming rig, complete with at least a dozen monitors and more total computing power than most PC-bangs would contain  She’s an excellent gamer and hacker, but she suffers so badly from social anxiety she can only talk to KY over the cellphone! Even the groceries are delivered, and she uses a voice modulator so the delivery guy thinks she’s a man. Very cool.

How she gets money to eat and/or build the gaming computer is not explained–or I missed that part too. She manages to cook him a meal, and KY cries so hard because someone shows some kindness to him that his tears fall in his food. It’s a very moving scene. I also note that she serves him purple (aka black or ‘forbidden’) rice which has superior nutritional and healing properties. (1) (2) How awesome is that detail?!

What the online gaming team ends up finding out during the investigation is that the creepy Public Defender has been working with rich families to find male and female unemployed poor outcasts to frame for crimes the young chaebols commit. They drug the unsuspecting victim, harvest blood, DNA, and other evidence. The hired help set up a crime scene that is 100% fabricated. Then they bring in the police, call in the media and present the crime with all kinds of hype that drive the public opinion into thinking this innocent person is a monster. It’s the perfection level which ends up tipping off KY’s gamer team members that something fishy is going on. They hack into CCTV cameras that show how all of this is being done, and the role of the creepy Public Defender in the entire mess.

The ending includes hijacking the TV news broadcast using a goofy bimbo girl as the reporter (very ironic and funny) and exposing the misdeeds of the public defender and all the richie-rich types who were benefiting from the crime scene staging to the public on TV which turns the public opinion tide against the bad guys. In the last scene, KY and the rest of the online gamer crew are eating together under a big tree; they’ve turned into a non-traditional family.

Part Four:

I think it would be easy to dismiss this movie as a fun diversion for a rainy winter afternoon and let it go at that. However, that sells “Fabricated City” short, because there’s a lot to think about at the end of the movie.

The fact that Kwon Yu cannot parlay his gaming talents and expertise for whatever reason into a meaningful job has to deeply resonate with the Millennial generation this film targets. I’ve written before about my experiences at the local college and hearing the despair of kids who go to school, get into debt, and then can’t find a job or find out they are so financially handcuffed by the student loan debt they might as well be slaves. I don’t doubt that KY also has some issues over not having a father, and/or lacking the personal connections that could get his foot on the bottom rung of the ladder in SK society.

I also note that KY feels free within the confines of the game to show his true nature–he’s courageous, he has leadership skills and he’s creative enough to get himself and his team out of difficult situations. Translating those skills to the real world is much more difficult–but that’s what this situation allows him to do, as difficult and brutal as it is. I got the feeling at the end of the movie that he’s gonna be a success at whatever he chooses to do in the future, even if that path is not made fully clear.

Being an social outcast is not reserved just for the young people–a couple of KY’s online pals are older than him; one is probably in his mid 50’s. I note that this character is not shunned in the least by the younger kids, nor do they show deference toward his age. He’s simply another one of the group; his input is as important as anyone else’s. Being of a similar age to this character, I have to applaud the writer for showing that older people should not be summarily dismissed by the younger generation or blindly followed because they are “elders”. I love the fact that these online gamer pals have so much trust in each other from time spent playing the game together that they can translate that into a real world scenario too.

I want to give major credit to the writer for creating the character of Yeo Wool. She’s extremely smart, and becomes the brains of the entire operation to free the ‘Captain’ and clear his name. All the men respect her abilities and do not doubt her in the least or minimize her input. They treat her as an equal, and not as some cutie-pie young girl. The fact that you can barely see her face behind her hair, the crippling social phobias she suffers from, and her zeal in trying to free her friend she only knows from an online game team makes her a very unique character. Women are not typically portrayed like this in TV shows or movies, whether in the US or SK. Yeo Wool has no romantic moments with KY; there was one scene where I thought he might kiss her, but she gets out of the car and runs away, which does not seem out of place in the least. Even with all her non-conventional issues, she shows a generous level of compassion for YK by cooking a meal for him and being kind to him when he needs it the most.

The portrayal of the media is so accurate it’s breathtaking. The level of spin, how the story is presented to the public, the sensationalism and the bias is incredibly relevant to what goes on right this minute in both the US and SK. The level of fabrication of the crime scenes is jaw dropping. You have to ask yourself what else TPTB are fabricating. I think most people buy into what they hear on TV–hook, line and sinker. I am reminded of the Latin phrase “Cui Bono” aka “Who benefits?” I always told my kids to think of that phrase when they hear something on the news. Who benefits from the story being told in this way?  I hope this movie flips a few switches in the moviegoer’s brain about the importance of looking at issues yourself and not putting blind trust in the media.

Pretty much no Kdrama or Kmovie would be complete without the running theme of the rich and powerful trashing the lives of the poor and downtrodden, and “Fabricated City” is right up in that group. The good guys are usually the police and the prosecutors, but here they are corrupt in every way. Message: Don’t trust the authority figures. That’s pretty much a standard movie theme in the US, but probably not in SK. I also thought one of the messages in the film was that the rich and powerful can be taken down by superior teamwork and careful plotting from the little guys, along with using the elite’s own technology to trip them up.

The computer technology is a double edged sword in this movie. It is a way for KY to disengage from his difficult present life, and a way to see what he is really capable of doing. It’s used to frame KY for a murder and rape he did not commit, and it’s the final blow to expose the intricate work of the rich chaebols who tried to cover up their crimes while framing an innocent man and destroying his life. I like that. Technology can be used for great good or great evil. It’s up to each of us to choose carefully.

I had heard that Ji Chang Wook said he is done with action movies and dramas, and wants to do some different things after his military service is over. At first I was sad to hear that, but he’s absolutely right. He’s the top action star for both TV and movies. He’s at the top of the genre. Time to move on with the career. I felt he gave the character of Kwon Yu a sense of gentleness and humanity. He did what he had to do to clear his name, but never went overboard with the revenge. JCW’s facial expressions and voice tone evoke so much emotion. I know JCW’s future projects will showcase these strengths. As great as this film was, I am sure he can do even better. A film with more dialogue than this one would be a good first choice. His acting improves with each project, and I thought he was fantastic in “Healer”, but more nuanced in “The K2”. I know a lot of people didn’t like K2, but I loved it, flaws and all.

I hope you can get a chance to see FC at the theater when it goes into a wider release on February 24, or if not–wait till it gets to ODK On Demand or DramaFever. This is a movie that would be well worth the time invested.

 

 

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Shamrockmom goes to The Source: A movie review of “Fabricated City” with Ji Chang Wook

  1. Thanks for this review, shamrockmom! I skipped the spoilers since I haven’t seen the movie, but your review really does give me a good idea of what to expect with this one. Which is important, since my appetite for action &/or violence is limited. 😉

    Also, that theater complex sounds like a cool place!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the summary of FC. I really could not understand half of the movie if it was not for your explanation. The movie was to fast and to much action. I would had like to know and seen some more explanation on his mothers death and more emotion on the subject. I think the part that you talk about him in jail and what the director try to in-ply was not necessary at all in the movie. I would had also like KY to have done more computer hacking himself to find the reason why he was frame. The public defender was suspicious from the start of the movie. The director made him to obvious. The large ipad on the floor made my brain spin. I had to take my eyes of the screen so I would not get sick. The first part of the movie and the story was good but somehow i got lost because I found a lot of action without sequence of what was actually happing The director fail me with this movie. The actors made the movie great especially JCW but it would had been better if the director would had done a better job on the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

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