Go Watch The Doomsday Book

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on a great sci-fi anthology film from Korea that you should really see if you’re tired of cliches and regurgitated ideas in American science fiction movies.

(I am. Sometimes.)

As they say in Korea, “Prepare yourself–it’s time for the Electric Didact!”*

*(They don’t actually say that in Korea yet, but we’re working on it.)

The Doomsday Book
I just watched this the other day because it kept popping up in the scifi/fantasy category of Netflix, and the poster (above) looked pretty interesting to me. The Doomsday Book (or, A Record of the Destruction of Mankind) is a Korean film directed by Kim Jee-woon and Yim Pil-sung. It’s an anthology film, so it is made up of three short films strung together. I wanted to recommend the movie because I really enjoyed its fresh takes on some established speculative ideas.
The first film is a zombie apocalypse that revolves around an unpopular lab tech who gets left home by his family when they go on a vacation trip. The zombie virus gets spread via the garbage system after he takes the trash out (we never get a clue as to how the virus came about in the first place), where the infected trash is transformed into cattle feed. There’s a great montage of people eating beef (and getting infected) that really struck me.

The third film is a meteor collision story with a twist: the meteor in question is actually a cosmic eight-ball that the protagonist, a little girl, ordered online via some sort of interstellar delivery service…

But my favorite was the second film, titled “Heavenly Creatures” in English. It follows a technician in the robotics company responsible for the robot named In-myung, who is owned by a Buddhist temple. The technician is called in to take a look, since the monks have come to the conclusion that In-myung has achieved Enlightenment, shedding all desire and pain. For a brief intro to what this means, this short explanation could give some clue.
Heavenly Creatures climax scene

I thought this was intriguing. The movie asks whether a self-aware (aka “transcendent”?) AI can achieve metaphysical/religious perfection as well as physical/logical. The latter achievement is how we in the West tend to look at AI awareness and robots surpassing human consciousness in fiction. But I’ve rarely (if ever) seen a sci-fi story poke at the former, perhaps more nuanced approach. It’s a really cool idea with just as many potential conflicts and questions to be probed as other, more “logical” extrapolations of robot apocalypses.

Uniqueness in Fiction
To me, the joy of The Doomsday Book was not its total uniqueness; besides, there have been a bazillion stories about zombie apocalypses, awakening robots, and deadly meteors. But it’s when the tropes with which we’re familiar are shifted and changed to highlight entirely different possibilities or issues that we can achieve some really unique stuff.

Keyword here is issues. Genre fiction is not only about entertainment; as I’ve said before, whatever we write is essentially an argument that relates to the world we live in–may as well make the most of it!

Consider it a challenge to you who write. Take a trope you love and turn it in a different direction. What happens?

Then go deeper.

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Jedd Cole

Jedd Cole is a writer and scholar of literature, language, theory and philosophy. He studied rhetoric, writing and Spanish at University of Cincinnati. He produces video essays on the Electric Didact YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/c/electricdidact. Find his fiction and other recent work at electricdidact.wordpress.com.

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