Directed by: Ji-hoon Kim
Starring: Kyung-gu Sol, Ye-jin Son, Sang-kyung Kim, In-kwon Kim
Let’s cut to the chase: The Tower is the best disaster movie I’ve seen in a very long time. There has been a couple of good efforts in the genre the last few years, like 2012 and Tidal Wave, but this one trumps them all. Great visual effects, likeable characters and a frantic pace makes The Tower a must for any disaster movie fan.
It’s Christmas eve, and both staff and residents of Tower Sky, a luxurious twin-tower skyscraper, are getting ready for this years Christmas party. Maintenance manager and single father Dae-ho (Sang-kyung Kim) is trying to flirt with pretty restaurant manager Yoon-hee (Ye-jin Son), but a mishap in the restaurant kitchen forces him to shift his attention to problems with the building’s sprinkler system. As Dae-ho’s young daughter Hana arrives for the party, Dae-ho has to leave her in the care of Yoon-hee while he works on the security issues.
As the party gets going, guests are dazzled as Sky Tower president Jo delivers a true White Christmas with the help of an armada of helicopters. However, strong winds make one of the helicopters lose control, crashing into one of the twin towers, and suddenly the disaster is a fact, as raging fires spread from floor to floor. The fire department rushes to the scene, led by veteran firefighter Young-ki, whose hopes to spend Christmas with his wife are ruined once again.
After a mellow first half-hour dedicated to setting up characters and relationships, director Kim lets loose an impressive symphony of destruction. We’re treated to raging fires, exploding glass, collapsing floors and scenes of mass panic, as Dae-ho tries to find his daughter and the heroic firefighters fight to rescue the party guests and staff trapped above the fires. The situation is made even worse as president Jo decides to close a series of titanium firewalls, effectively dooming the people trapped behind them. The firemen find themselves torn between their duty to save as many lives as they can and the direct orders from the city’s mayor to help the VIP’s first.
If you’re thinking The Tower is indebted to The Towering Inferno you are quite right – director Kim has readily admitted that Inferno was one inspiration for this film, and some scenes echo of similar set pieces from the Steve McQueen classic. But The Tower ups the ante, taking the disastrous events even further with the entire building threatening to collapse – so when the fires are taken care of, our heroes are faced with a new round of problems. Towards the end, the film heads into 9/11 territory which makes for some surprisingly powerful moments.
The Tower is certainly as cliché-ridden and formulaic as any other disaster movie, but it still manages to engage and exhilarate. The characters might be flimsy but the setup is handled lightly and economically, and it’s easy to take a liking to them. While the actors all give good performances – particularly Kyung-gu Sol (who also starred in Tidal Wave) as legendary firefighter Young-ki – the brilliant visual effects work is the true star of the film. It simply looks great, and there is not one dull moment as the characters have to face fires, indoor tsunamis, collapsing glass bridges and falling elevators. Also, here’s something as unusual as a disaster movie that manages to deliver a couple of scenes that are laugh-out loud funny – and intentionally so (!).
I’m not going to say that The Tower is better than The Towering Inferno – it can’t quite match the Newman/McQueen team-up. But it is less bloated than 2012, and a slimmer, slicker vehicle than Tidal Wave, and despite any shortcomings I had a blast watching it. So here goes: my first 5-star rating this side of the 70’s.