“Yesterday” 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 “Minority 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 person 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 exciting “Shiri”, 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.
Yun-su Jeon (director) / Yun-su Jeon (screenplay)
CAST: Seung-woo Kim …. Seok
Yoon-jin Kim …. Hui-su
Min-su Choi …. Goliath
Seon-a Kim …. May