A disaster movie for the digital-tech age, a toxic gas floods the streets of Seoul and a pair of amateur climbers must clamber from its ever rising threat
In arguably the first ever disaster movie (certainly the first from a major studio), 1933’s Deluge from the US, relies on the film’s townspeople luckily stumbling upon the trapped heroes so they can be saved.
What emanates from Exit is the vastly 21st nature of its developments, relying on Seoul’s hyper-connected population and love of advanced technology to hurtle the story forward and aid our similarly trapped heroes here.
Mobile phones torches are used to send SOS signals, while phone cameras and YouTube channels live-stream dramatic action to others. Just like the townspeople in Deluge nearly 90 years’ prior, the locals in Exit are able to help, but here they are using brightly lit drones in the sky instead.
It is not all tech positive though, as we see one group of selfie-happy youngsters decide to take a picture rather than escape and pay the ultimate price for their ‘like’-hunting vanity.
Yong-nam (Jo Jung-suk – The Face Reader, My Annoying Brother) was a star rock climber at college, but as an adult he struggles to get by while living with his parents.
For his mother’s upcoming 70th birthday party, the family opt to celebrate at the Cloud Garden. There he bumps into former crush and fellow ex-rock climber Eui-joo – played by K-Pop star Im Yoon-ah in her first film lead – who is working there.
Meanwhile, a terrorist has parked a truck nearby and released a deadly toxic gas across Seoul. As mass panic spreads alongside the killer gas, the party group at Cloud Garden realise they must reach the building’s roof to escape the gas. However, a locked roof door means one of the former climbers may need to brush off their skills to save everyone and reach the rescue helicopters.
There are several uniquely Korean quirks and commentaries throughout. The aforementioned focus on mobile phones and technology, but also the utilisation of a karaoke machine to get the rescuers’ attention and another scene where a bag is desperately needed but is brimming with soju.
The film’s steadily rising smoke works ideally as a very real threat that offers the perfect ‘ticking bomb’ that keeps the suspense of the disaster movie moving. There is an obvious environmental commentary to the film’s toxic smoke threat too, how we must act quickly to save ourselves and find higher ground before it is too late.
Such topics are given time to breath and impact, partly because the film’s romantic plot between Yong-nam and Eui-joo is not overplayed. Saving your life and that of your family is far more important than romance, even when you happen to stumble upon a K-Pop beauty working at a family event.
Exit is a film about moral dilemmas and the very notion of sacrifice. Of who should survive first in the face of disaster-led death and gaining redemption through bravery.
Korea’s has released a wide remit of disaster films in recent years, such as Tidal Wave (2009), The Tower (2012), The Flu (2013) and Pandora (2016) – all of which have boasted superb special effects, but some of which are let down slightly by uneven scripts. Exit manages to break this trend with a sharp-worded and well-plotted addition to the genre.