Disaster films can be hit-or-miss propositions even with a big name action star in front of the camera and an experienced director behind. But throw in some broad comedy, social commentary, a pretty-boy actor (with great hair, it should be noted) who looks like he’d lose an arm wrestling match against a 12-year-old and a writer-director making his feature debut, and you’ve got all the makings of a different kind of disaster.
Yong-Nam’s (Cho Jung-Seok/조정석) adult life is a colossal failure. Since graduating from university a few years earlier, the young man has been unable to land a job. To pass time when he’s not camped out in his bedroom at his parents’ home, he heads to the local park where he works out on the jungle gym in full view of the neighbourhood’s little old ladies and young kids. He enjoys rock climbing but he’s not even that good at that. While he was in university, he lost a race up a rock face against fellow student, Eui-Ju (K-pop star Yoona/윤아). To add salt to that wound, Eui-Ju spurned Yong-Nam’s romantic advances and told him that she just wanted to be his friend.
For his mother’s 70th birthday, Yong-Nam arranges to have her party at a banquet hall where he knows that Eui-Ju works as an assistant manager. While at the event, a disgruntled scientist releases a lethal gas nearby. When the party guests realise that their lives are in imminent danger and there is no safe way out of the building, Yong-Nam decides to spring into action and use his rock climbing training to save his family and Eui-Ju.
EXIT is, for the most part, an enjoyable roller coaster ride that will leave audiences both exhausted and somewhat frustrated. Writer-director Lee Sang-geun/이상근 has infused his story of a young man who goes from zero to hero with a fair bit of OTT humour (Yong-Nam’s family members love to slap each other) to keep the story light. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work, particularly the scenes involving Eui-Ju’s boss, who incessantly hits on her. As we’ve seen in more than a few South Korean movies of late, the #MeToo movement in that country is still a wishful thought. The same goes for actor Cho who is no Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis or Dwayne Johnson. With his slightly pudgy body, it’s hard to believe that Yong-Nam could climb up a stepladder much less scale the side of a skyscraper but that’s what green screens are for. Nevertheless, EXIT is a good allegory about a young man who can’t seem to climb up the corporate ladder but finds the inner strength to reach the top anyways in spite of all the obstacles thrown his way.
To its credit, Yong-Nam’s family are a riot, particularly his dad Jang-Soo (Park In-Hwan/박인환, THE ODD FAMILY: ZOMBIE ON SALE), who refuses to be a passive participant in his son’s journey of self-discovery. My beef with the film came at the end when the boy gets girl-boy loses girl-boy gets girl back again story arc failed to gel. Sure, it’s not something we see very often in Asian cinema but I would have liked to have seen Eui-Ju lean in and plant a big wet one on Yong-Nam’s lips. Come on, it’s almost 2020. Take a risk, directors!
I can see EXIT being remade by Hollywood and starring someone like Zac Efron… without the broad comedy though. The film has done extremely well globally, taking in over six times its production budget to date. If it does get the Hollywood treatment, just remember you read it here first!
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, September 6th, 8:30 am HK time!
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