+++ Opinion +++
In South Korea, Ma Dong-seok is one of the greatest film stars of all time. In Germany, too, he has been building up a steadily growing fan base since the zombie hit “Train To Busan” at the latest. That the star, who also goes by the name Don Lee, will have a role in Marvel’s “Eternals’ brought him additional attention: local distributors are now increasingly bringing earlier hits by the action star to Germany. However, one particular Don Lee film came to us for very different reasons: Pandemic, which premiered in South Korea in 2013. It was released in German cinemas seven years later because of its thematic topicality.
Now, two more years later, the disaster thriller is celebrating its German television premiere. Tele 5 shows “Pandemic” tonight from 10:50 p.mand let me say this much: The nerve-wracking blockbuster from South Korea also works without a daily reference.
A deadly airborne virus breaks out 20 kilometers from Seoul. The South Korean government orders drastic quarantine measures and has the area sealed off militarily. While pure chaos breaks out in the city of Bundang, which lies in the middle of the crisis area, virus researcher In-hye (Soo Ae) and rescue worker Ji-goo (Hyuk Jang) try to secure a blood sample from the first victim. They want to use it to develop a vaccine, but time is ticking: Due to the increasing violence in the crisis area, the military, which is being put under diplomatic pressure by the USA, is threatening a radical solution…
The Korean original title “Gamgi” can be translated much less luridly as “flu”. Yet In 2020, German marketing drew attention to the topic of the pandemic, the widespread spread of the virus and how to deal with it politically – and then the German poster also had the words “Inspired by real events” emblazoned on it.
On the one hand, this is understandable from a marketing perspective: after a pandemic-related phase of cinema closures, it is tempting to be able to conjure up a virus-themed thriller out of a hat. However, it is debatable how clever that was in the end. With shots of overcrowded hospitals, overwhelmed health workers and rushing to the supermarket for a quick stockpile, Pandemic evokes memories of what 2020 caught up with. But all of this is just a dramaturgical ramp in “Pandemic”, which director Kim Sung-su uses to zoom into the world of destruction, devastation and popcorn cinema hype.
The German marketing from two years ago simply aroused the wrong expectations, especially since projects such as the epidemic thriller series “Sløborn” were launched at the same time, which were much closer to the entire range of topics “emergence, spread and (non-)control of a pandemic”. Now, two more years later, there is hope that Tele 5’s Pandemic will find an audience that hasn’t been fed false expectations and will see the film for what it is.
“Pandemic” is in the tradition of major US catastrophe blockbusters, including exaggerated sequences in which politicians, the military and researchers debate possible scenarios at the drawing board. Above all, Kim Sung-su, who specializes in bombastic spectacles, is concerned with chaos, destruction and violent conflicts.
Even if Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich send their regards in terms of dramaturgy and character drawing, Kim Sung-su takes a different approach aesthetically: he creates a sweaty, dirty film world that’s so muddy and scaly you might think you can smell it. Together with the noisy, powerful sound design in the sequences around escalating protest groups, the result is an entertaining, exciting mix of popcorn destruction frenzy and South Korean thrill full of dirt.
Incidentally, Don Lee plays a man who stirs up civil unrest in “Pandemic” and sets himself up as the leader of an angry mob. And as for him apart from his peace-loving “Eternals’ role, he becomes part of a bloody, raw gunfight. As I said: In 2020, given the local marketing, this hit the wrong nerve with many film fans. But as an action thriller on the Tele 5 TV evening, it’s fun.