2009: Lost Memories (2001) Movie Review

Si-myung Lee’s “2009: Lost Memories” is a science fiction movie in the guise of an action flick. Its main premise hangs on a Time Travel concept of altering past events in order to shape the future ala the “Terminator” movies. Of course there are a number of Time Paradoxes that immediately spring to mind, but that’s for another discussion. (And since most Time Travel movies avoid tackling these Paradoxes anyway, why bother bringing them up?)

“Lost Memories” stars Dong-Kun Jang (“Nowhere to Hide”) as Sakamoto, a Korean federal agent who exists in an alternate reality where the Japanese didn’t lose World War II, but instead retained control of Korea. Sakamoto and his Japanese partner Saiko (Toru Nakamura, “Purple Butterfly”) works for the JBI (Japanese Bureau of Investigations), and their job is to eliminate a terrorist organization made up of Korean nationalists fighting for Korea independence. The terrorists believe that the reality they know is in fact an altered one (altered by a secret Japanese conspiracy, no less), and they plan on going back in time to put things right. But first they have to get their hands on a Time Machine…

Hopefully I am not spoiling any major secrets with the plot points above, because for nearly half of its running length (the film is over 2 hours long) “Lost Memories” never comes close to touching the Time Travel plot point. Up to the introduction of the sci-fi angle, the movie plays out as a standard action film, with Sakamoto’s investigation bringing him closer and closer to The Truth and The Conspiracy, and finally his road to self-discovery and redemption.

It’s all standard fare, and although the action scenes are handled with energy, the film is saturated with a pretentious soundtrack that thinks “more is more” and “less be damned.” It gets quite irritating after a while, especially since the score is so interchangeable and seem to have no rhyme or reason for being except to scream at the audience, “Pay attention, this is an action scene!” Also, on more than one occasion director Si-myung Lee forgoes continuity in order to deliver an emotionally impact scene to the viewer. They’re nice, but I’d rather have a movie that flowed correctly, not stopping in fits and starts so I can be “affected.” When a character stands out in the open during a massive gunfight for what seems like an hour “feeling”, it gets a little ridiculous.

The film’s main draw is actor Dong-Kun Jang, who seems to be channeling Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun Fat in every scene. Jang is somber and brooding, his Sakamoto constantly wondering if he really fits in with the Japanese-dominated JBI. He is a Korean with a Japanese name, and everyone is not hesitant to remind him of this fact. Even his partner and best friend Saiko is very much aware that he is partnered with a “lesser” cop. Add to that Sakamoto’s history with the police force and the death of his father, a cop accused of corruption, and its not surprising that Sakamoto is the only realized character in the whole film.

As an action movie, “Lost Memories” works, but as a sci-fi film, its Time Travel angle is ineptly written and executed. For example: there is a device that can send people through time and alter history, but the people who have it are hauling it around in metal crates without an army to protect it? Gee, people just don’t treat time travel machines the way they use to.

“Lost Memories” also lacks any form of subtlety whatsoever. The Japanese characters (except for Saiko, for the most part) are cold-blooded killers who shoot anyone and everyone, all the while maintaining an evil smile on their evil faces. (And they also shoot kids in the back, too!). Meanwhile, even the most minor Korean characters are shown as heroic figures, given hero’s deaths at every turn. Needless to say, Japanese audiences probably won’t be very happy with the film.

Slick, expensive, and loud — three words that describes “Lost Memories.” It’s also brainless, avoiding anything intelligent like the plague. But it’s a good, mindless action film that manages to overcome cartoonish villains with a generous amount of bloodshed and flying bullet casings.

Actor Dong-Kun Jang is a star in the making, and the film’s best scenes concern Jang’s Sakamoto and his partner, Saiko. The two have a particularly heart-wrenching confrontation in an interview room that leaves me to wonder how it can be that the film is so clueless about everything else when it got that one scene so right?

Si-myung Lee (director) / Si-myung Lee, Sang-hak Lee (screenplay)
CAST: Kil-Kang Ahn …. Myung-Hak Lee
Dong-Kun Jang …. Masayuki Sakamoto
Ken Mitsuishi …. Hideyo
Toru Nakamura …. Shojiro Saiko

Buy 2009: Lost Memories  on DVD