esterday" is a flashy and competently
put-together South Korean take on futuristic sci-fi. It's essentially about a
group of lab experiments, led by the biggest and baddest lab experiment of them
all, coming out of the woodworks in search of their creator, all in the name of
revenge. Worst, these guys don't care about leaving a trail of corpses in their
wake. Trying to stop them is tough cop Seok (Seung-woo Kim), who runs an elite
police unit made up of tough cookies like May (Seon-a Kim), who unfortunately
doesn't get much characterization.
"Yesterday" involves genetic manipulation and
human genome stuff, and as a result there's a lot of science babble to digest.
The film also offers up creative high-tech crimefighting tools of the future ala
Report". But besides being without Tom Cruise, "Yesterday"
also lacks 1/10th of the energy of "Report". And there, I'm
afraid, lays the biggest obstacle facing not only "Yesterday", but
also a lot of Asian films seeking to copy the Hollywood formula. (For another
example, see Japan's "Returner",
which suffers the same way as "Yesterday".)
It's not as if "Yesterday" doesn't have a good
script. Even if the screenplay by writer/director Yun-su Jeon gets a bit
convoluted toward the end, and more than a little contrived at other times, it's
still coherent writing. In other hands, but with the same expensive resources,
"Yesterday" would be a thrilling sci-fi movie, with heavy doses of
edge-of-your-seat action and emphasis on the word "thrilling". But
because this is a South Korean production, all the characters have as much
energy as a rock sitting on the beach, and the whole endeavor is as exciting as
watching an Amish rock band.
The main problem as I see it is that "Yesterday"
looks and sounds like a big-budget Hollywood movie, but it isn't directed like
one. For instance, did someone forget to tell the actors that their characters
are supposed to be people, and thus have emotions? I'm afraid someone
must have forgotten, because we get a cop that looks like he's sleepwalking, a
leading lady that looks like she's at her mother's funeral, and a lead villain
that is as exciting as -- well, I think I've pretty much used up all the
creative phrases for "dull". How is it possible that in a movie that
has scenes involving loud gunplay for long stretches at a time, not a single
personal onscreen looks like they have a pulse?
And I haven't even begun to talk about the poor concept
that is the Hui-su character. As played by Yoon-jin Kim ("Shiri"),
Hui-su offers little to no reason to exist other than to provide background
exposition and to get Seok's people killed. By the end of the movie, the
decision-impaired Hui-su has gotten about 100 cops killed, mostly because she
fails to follow simple instructions like "don't interfere". And why
exactly is Seok letting her get so involve in a case that she has such a
personal stake in? At one point, SWAT cops are storming a location and Hui-su
is walking calmly right in the middle of them! Wha...?
Yoon-jin Kim is a good actress, but she has the type of
face that doesn't work well in action films. (Yes, I know, she was in the
but she works in that film only because you don't know she's the assassin until
the end.) It's in films like "Ardor"
that Kim is right at home; all that role required was for her to look sad, an
ability that she seems to have mastered. I would have much rather learn more
about Seok's second-in-command May, played by Seon-a Kim. But alas, May is
confined to co-star status, along with the other cops in Seok's unit. Seok
himself has a good backstory. But again, where is the personality? Where is the passion?
On the plus side "Yesterday" is a good-looking
picture with slick production values. On the negative side the action is
sometimes hard to follow and Min-su Choi ("Libera
Me"), as the lead villain, is not very fearsome, even as he's wiping
out Seok's team one by one by one. And with the dumb-as-a-doorknob Hui-su
leading Seok's unit to death en masse, the bad guy manages to rack up a pretty
impressive bodycount. It's too bad that instead of being impressed by the
bloodbath I was dismayed by the lackluster performances. When even the usage of
Ryan's War POV doesn't perk my interest, there's something very wrong.
And yet, I enjoyed the few personal interactions between
the members of Seok's unit. "Yesterday" has the makings of a good
crime TV series, but as a movie it falters badly whenever the rest of the unit
disappears into the background for very long. It's amazing how much the May
character lights up the screen. On the other hand, it's simply awe-inspiring how
the Hui-su character just saps all the life from the screen.