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Review of the 2003 South Korean film "Natural City"

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By Colan Mitchell March 5, 2020 - 10:38am


Natural City

South Korea 2003

Direcor: Byung-chun Min


To relinquish Natural City to the "Blade Runner" copycat bin, which so many reviewers do, and which might seem the obvious and correct thing at first go, does the film an unfortunate disservice.


It struck me that while it works off of the same "conceptual fabric" as Ridley Scott's vision of the Philip K. Dick novel, it was, under the surface, a different film in a number of ways, and offers a dystopean vision that is uniquely Korean with cultural and sociological reference points which understandably Scott and North American audiences do not usually have the experiencial palatte to grasp without a great deal of effort. While east and west have some shared iconography of what a decaying society is like, due to increasing cultural cross-fertilization as a result of globalization, they also have many that are culturally unique.


It took me several viewings but it struck me as eerily beautiful in its own right, and offers us some interesting counter-points to Blade Runner. One simple example is the relationship between R and the android Ria. When contrasted with theirs, the dialogue and body language expressed between Deckard and Rachel in Blade Runner is  somewhat cold and unconvincing (yes, I understand the reasons for this, but I believe the distinction between the two films to be an interesting one). In Natural City, it is more emotionally engaging and therefore more challenging. it might be far more akin to what we will really be encountering in the future, when we ourselves have human like androids amongst us.


I understand the temptation of some reviewers I've read elsewhere, to parse Natural City as an example of what has become a common trend in the film industry, that of generating endless cheap productions that have titles close enough to the original, or Trailers that are visually similar enough to a blockbuster, in order to confuse the ticket buyer and video renter (and now the video streamer). This production does use the 'shiny' Ridley Scott marketable window dressing of Blade Runner, (see the police vehicles for example) but I would argue that this is only a veneer that wipes off fairly quickly if you view it with unjaundiced eyes. Perhaps the marketers did want to generate some confusion, but the creative people behind the film slipped in something that, while cognizant of Blade Runner, is truly original and not just a copy.


Perhaps I am over valuing the cultural ligaments of the film (I watched this in the midst of an orgy of viewing dozens of S. Korean films), but I believe the Director Byung-chun Min invests it with enough of a unique vision that it removes the film from the category of 'cheap Blade Runner knock-offs' and makes it of value to watch on it's own merits.  Perhaps, after all, Natural City belongs on the same shelf which holds Blade Runner rather than on one below it.


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