EXIT (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): They must find a way out…

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South Korean film “EXIT” is better than I expected. When I watched its trailer a few weeks ago, it seemed to be no more than another silly comedy action flick, but the movie does its job fairly well as bouncing along with its two main characters, and I was entertained by that even while noticing a number of distracting elements in the film.

During its first act, the movie takes some time for establishing the frustrating circumstance of Yong-name (Jo Jung-suk), a currently unemployed lad who has just been notified that his latest job interview was not as successful as he hoped. To many of his family members including his parents with whom he has lived for years, he has been nothing but a pathetic loser with no bright future, and he certainly feels awkward when he is about to attend his mother’s 70th birthday party along with many family members.

As managing to endure his mother’s 70th birthday party, which is being held at a banquet hall on the top floor of a building located in the center of some big city, Yong-nam happens to comes across Eui-joo (Yoona), who was once his university junior and is now working as an assistant manager of the banquet hall. When they spent a lot of time together as members of a mountaineering club in their university, Yong-nam had a crush on Eun-joo, but Eun-joo said that she simply wanted to be like a sister to him, and, as shown from a flashback scene, that certainly hurt Yong-nam a lot.

Anyway, both of them are glad to see each other again, and it looks like they may get closer to each other again, but there are two minor problems. While Yong-nam understandably comes to lie about his current status to Eui-joo, Eui-joo has to deal with her annoying boss, who is pretty oblivious to the fact that she is not interested in dating him at all, even though she tries to handle him as tactfully as possible.

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And then something quite serious happens around the time when the birthday party is about to be over. At a spot not so far from the banquet hall building, a massive amount of lethal chemical gas is released by someone whose spiteful motive is revealed later in the story, and the city is soon thrown into panic and confusion as this toxic gas is quickly spread around the streets and alleys of the city. Fortunately, Yong-nam, Eui-joo, and Yong-nam’s parents and several other family members manage to evade the gas, but they soon find themselves stuck at the top floor of the banquet hall building, and the gas keeps spreading into the air bit by bit.

Once Yong-nam decides to be more active for saving not only himself but also others around him, the movie shifts its gear into full action mode. Although it has been several years since he left his college mountaineering club, Young-nam is still physically fit as shown from the opening scene of the movie, and Eui-joo is also willing to do more than assisting him.

For not spoiling your entertainment, I will not describe here in details how they tackle one obstacle after another until they eventually arrive at the expected climactic part, but I can tell you instead about how entertaining some of the highlight moments in the movie are. As a guy who does not like being at high places at all, I certainly braced myself while watching Yong-nam trying something not so far from what Alex Honnold did in Oscar-winning documentary “Free Solo” (2018), and I also winced as watching an increasingly suspenseful sequence where Yong-nam and Eui-joo must carefully move on a rope hastily installed between two buildings.

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While rather contrived at times, the screenplay by director/writer Lee Sang-geun keeps things rolling to the end at least, and its efficient storytelling is thankfully not hampered much by several unnecessary plot elements. The movie often loses some of its narrative focus and momentum during the parts showing what is going on outside our two main characters’ situation, and I must say that I was occasionally distracted by how blatantly the movie swings back and forth between comedy and melodrama, which does not totally mingled well with the serious aspects of the story.

Anyway, the movie is carried well by its two engaging lead performers. While Jo Jung-suk, who drew my attention for the first time via his scene-stealing supporting role in “Architecture 101” (2012), is suitably cast in his role, Yoona holds her own place well beside her co-performer as bringing some pluck to her character, and they effortlessly click well with each other throughout the film in addition to looking quite believable in their action scenes in the film. In case of other supporting players in the film including Go Doo-shim, Park In-hwan, Kim Ji-young, and Kang Ki-young, they are merely required to fill their broad supporting roles, but that is not a particularly big problem considering that the movie does not require much characterization from the start.

As far as I observed from many other audiences around me during my viewing, “EXIT” succeeds as much as intended, and I recommend it because its strong elements are enough to compensate for its noticeable flaws. I do not think it will be remembered for a long time, but it mostly works well on the whole, so I guess I should not complain for now.

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