Though nominally a disaster movie, Sinkhole fits neatly into a subcategory of Korean films that address the current housing finance crisis. As it stands, young people in Korea are putting off marriage and other life goals because they are getting into debt to buy property, and sometimes the debt overwhelms them. The protagonist of Kim Ji-hoon’s movie is an average salaried employee of a small company who has put everything he’s got into buying a new condominium on the outskirts of Seoul, and at first the various difficulties he faces—friction with new neighbors, jealousy from colleagues—are played for laughs. Even when Dong-won (Kim Sung-kyun) starts suspecting that the quality of his new apartment may not be up to snuff, there’s a kind of slapstick quality to his disappointment and anger. His young son, for instance, finds it entertaining that marbles move across the floor by themselves. This subtext deepens when Dong-won invites his subordinates to his new digs for a housewarming party and they talk about their own housing-related woes, but just as the script starts exploring the theme in detail the bottom literally drops out of the movie, and Dong-won’s apartment building is swallowed by a sinkhole.
This disaster scenario lays out another subtext: South Korea’s unfortunate history of man-made disasters that are usually caused by poor construction practices and civil engineering. Of course, in order for the movie to pack as much drama and tension into the ordeals that the building’s residents now face just trying to survive, the disaster itself is exaggerated—the building sinks about 300 meters into the earth. Interestingly, Kim maintains the slapstick mood for a while, even as loved ones go missing and bad weather threatens to shift the ground even more. But Dong-won and his neighbors, including the ne’er-do-well single father, Man-su (Cha Seung-won), who has been a thorn in Dong-won’s side ever since he moved in, work together to make sure everyone gets out alive. Kim does some fine work in the requisite white-knuckle moments, and the patented Korean sentimentality doesn’t grate as much as it usually does. As a disaster movie, Sinkhole is efficient and entertaining (despite some cheesy special effects), but moreover its sly depiction of how generations of working people in Korea are being pushed into economic ruin by the conventional need to buy property not only holds its own against the action prerogatives but makes a more lasting and forceful impression.
In Korean. Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063).
Sinkhole home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2021 Showbox and the Tower Pictures, Inc.