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“11 A.M.” is a Korean sci-fi thriller with a time travelling theme, marking a change of pace for director Kim Hyun Seok, best known for the hit 2010 romantic comedy “Cyrano Agency”. Packed with the expected mind-bending twists and turns, the film is a high concept affair that revolves around a small cast of popular stars, including Jung Jae Young (“Confession of Murder”), Kim Ok Bin (“Thirst”) and Choi Daniel (“Cyrano Agency”).
The film is set in a deep sea research lab, where a team of scientists led by Woo Seok (Jung Jae Young) are attempting to build a time machine, backed by a powerful Russian corporation. Although Woo Seok, his assistant Young Eun (Kim Ok Bin) and physicist Ji Wan (Choi Daniel) have achieved the not inconsiderable feat of sending an object 24 hours into the future, they are abruptly told that their operation is to be shut down and that they are to be evacuated in two days’ time. Deciding to push ahead with an unauthorised human trial, Woo Seok and Young Eun use the machine to travel into the future, arriving at the titular 11 a.m. the next day, only to find the lab in ruins and their colleagues missing. Woo Seok returns to the present time, leaving Young Eun behind, and with time running out tries to figure out what happened before they catch up with the clock.
Although Korea doesn’t seem to make a lot of science fiction films, the country’s forays into the genre often prove pretty interesting, and “11 A.M.” certainly has a strong central conceit, even if its time travel elements are used predominantly for manipulating the viewer rather than anything plausible. It’s a complex affair, and though the script does allude to its later twists from early on, it successfully manages to sneak in a few effective surprises and benefits from some intelligent structuring. Kim Hyun Seok packs a fair amount into the short running time, and while some of the plot devices are a little cheap (for example the characters being able to see CCTV footage from the future showing one of them dying, though obscuring the identity), it’s slick and fast moving popcorn fun that keeps the paradoxes and headaches to a minimum without throwing in too many gratuitous set pieces or action scenes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given Kim’s previous background, for all its sci-fi touches and intricate scheming, the film is at heart character driven and a commentary on the darker aspects of human nature, charting the ways in which the characters quickly turn against each other as 11 a.m. draws near. This is nothing new of course, though it’s an effective and claustrophobic take on the subject, with some good use of the limited sets and of the rapidly approaching zero hour.
Some solid performances from the cast, Kim Ok Bin in particular, help to give the material a lift and to prevent the characters from becoming too much like pawns on a chessboard, and a few of the later revelations do come with somewhat of a punch. Though the tension is undermined by the fact that the supporting cast all have the word ‘disposable’ stamped on their unfortunate foreheads, the leads and their various secrets, stories and relationships are engaging enough to keep the viewer reasonably gripped through till the satisfactory, if melodramatic, conclusion.
Ultimately, “11 A.M.” isn’t really science fiction in the truest sense, its use of time travel never amounting to much more than a narrative gimmick that allows director Kim Hyun Seok free reign to mess around with his characters and the audience. Still, for those not expecting something too deep, it’s an entertaining puzzle box that’s driven by its human elements and ideas, and which shows a pleasing reliance on its script rather than cheap thrills.
Hyun-seok Kim (director) / Lee Seung-hwan (screenplay)
CAST: Jae-yeong Jeong … Woo-seok
Ok-bin Kim … Young-eun
Daniel Choi … Ji-wan