By Darryl Goh
Disaster films from Korea are becoming as popular a genre as horror movies are from Thailand. The newest entry of this genre, “Sinkhole”, has all the elements of what makes a good disaster flick, but falls flat at times when using slapstick to contrast emotionally-charged scenes. Yes, this film wants viewers to laugh even though the protagonists are buried deep below the surface. The main cast included Running Man alum Lee Kwang-soo (who plays Kim Seung-hyeon) to show how serious they were about making a comedy-disaster film.
When Park Dong-won (Kim Sung-kyun) invites his subordinates over for a housewarming party, the entire apartment building sinks into oblivion, trapping neighbours and Park’s department who “did not expect to die at their superior’s house”.
Squabbly neighbours quickly band together as they tackle increasingly difficult situations thrown at them, while authorities crawl to make any significant progress in saving the survivors. As the characters race against time to survive, you’ll find yourself at the edge of your seat, although towards the end it would feel like miracle after miracle was happening which could be interpreted as part of the comedy due to the absurdity. There are some physics-defying scenes that would probably make a primary school student raise an eyebrow.
When it comes to character development, the tried-and-tested strategy of focusing on family values can make viewers tear up during this film. Trapped underground, watch as impossible relationships mend and sacrifices are made. However, some emotional scenes fall flat, especially when lightly-seasoned jokes do not land, resulting in jarring scenes that cheapen the sadness.
Other emotional scenes suffer due to the huge supporting cast, whom we were introduced to for less than five minutes before the building came tumbling down. The cast list does not even include their names, and yet the film expects viewers to be emotionally-invested in their plight.
The film spotlights an issue that those who’ve watched Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” can relate to – how unaffordable housing is. Viewers are reminded multiple times during the film that housing in Seoul is very expensive, and that Park spent 11 years saving up to own a home only to have it buried miles underground less than a month later. Although the film suggests a solution to sky-high property prices at the end, it should be noted that it is illegal in Singapore.
While this is a disaster film at its core, it is no Train to Busan, and neither does it market itself to be. A daring experiment to combine opposite genres of disaster and comedy will almost certainly be a turn off for some, but South Koreans propelled the movie to become the 2nd highest-grossing Korean film of 2021. Now that kind of money can surely buy a comfortable house on solid ground.