In the 1970s, disaster movies were the blockbusters of the day. Towering Inferno and the Airport movies raked in tons of cash. However, by the 1980s, the genre had died down. Along came computer generated effects and two filmmakers by the name of Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich. In 1996, Independence Day hit theaters with a dizzying array of effects that took glee in destroying some of the most famous landmarks around the world. Disaster movies were back and were about to enter a new era of disaster porn. Dante’s Peak, Armageddon, 2012, and so many others have since destroyed acres of the earth for the pleasure of movie audiences around the world. Not to be left out, South Korea released Pandora, a disaster porn flick sure to please fans of the genre.
In Pandora, Jae Hyeok (Kim Nam-gil) lives in a small Korean town with his mother, sister-in-law, and nephew. Jae spends his days working at a nearby nuclear power plant and nights wooing his girlfriend Yeon-Joo (Kim Ju-hyeon). At work, another worker, Pyung-Sub (Jung Jin-Young) warns that the plant is vulnerable, but is ignored. An earthquake strikes the area causing massive damage to the plant and setting off a chain of events that, if left unobstructed, will result in catastrophic damage to all of South Korea. Jae, Pyung, and a handful others head into the plant to help prevent the disaster from getting far worse.
Pandora preys on some basic human fears to give the film some real weight. Real-life disasters like at Fukushima in Japan embolden those who think that nuclear energy is dangerous and potentially lethal to life itself. Pandora is onboard with that. And while that’s a great fundamental dramatic floor to start from, Pandora does little with it.
Director Park Jung-woo showed off his skills in 2012 with the tense science-fiction thriller Deranged. In Pandora, it seems he’s too content to do things by the book. Of course, his by-the-book is pretty, featuring some subtle CG, solid writing and acting, and a muted color palette at times that isn’t drab.
Some picture-perfect cinematography from Choi Young-hwan provides great visual work throughout the film. Young-hwan’s work in The Thieves (2012) and Veteran (2015), among past work, is forming a substantial legacy for the cinematographer.
Unfortunately, the overall product of Pandora is mostly unremarkable. It’s entertaining, for sure, but so straightforward and by-the-book that there’s little noteworthy. The film provides plenty of destruction, running, screaming, just like any other disaster porn feature.
A warning to those who aren’t fans of the genre just looking for a crazy, fun action flick. Pandora provides that, however, at two hours and 16 minutes, it’s a long ride. Often needlessly long, particularly for a story that’s as straightforward as this. It reminded me of why I didn’t enjoy Pacific Rim or most modern blockbusters. I love me some CG destruction, but keep it short because it will quickly become a drag.