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Review: South Korea's '11 A.M.' — It's about time

The first time-travel sci-fi tale from the Asian country clocks in as an efficiently told, character-driven winner.

November 28, 2013|By Sheri Linden
  • Jung Jae-young, left, and Daniel Choi star in the character-driven South Korean sci-fi film “11 A.M.”
Jung Jae-young, left, and Daniel Choi star in the character-driven South… (CJ Entertainment )

That old space-time conundrum — can we change the past or future without unforeseen consequences in the present? — receives an effective workout in "11 A.M." The countdown thriller, with its undersea laboratory, wormholes, artificial black holes and a time machine named Trotsky, won't alter the fabric of sci-fi storytelling, but as South Korea's first time-travel movie, it's a winning gambit.

Director Kim Hyun-seok, who until now has worked chiefly in romantic comedy, deploys visual effects and low-key performances in an efficiently told, character-driven exploration of immortality, hubris and human folly.

Jung Jae-young stars as Woo-seok, lead scientist of a research team who, like the Russian oligarch funding his project, has personal reasons for seeking tomorrow's medical breakthroughs today. Opening with a biblical warning, the film finds the Russians shutting down the experiment after three largely unproductive years. With contract renewal uncertain, obsessed Woo-seok insists on one quick test run before vacating the premises — and as with that one last bank job in a crime drama, it's clear that this will be someone's undoing.

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Returning from their brief trip to the next day, Wee-seok and acolyte Young-eun (Ok-bin Kim) bring reports of dire events. Their haunted demeanor, not to mention closed-circuit video evidence, sets off a variously heroic and doomed dance of desperation among the researchers, including Young-eun's second-in-command boyfriend (Daniel Choi).

Park Su-jin's lean screenplay tosses in some backstory melodrama while keeping the tech mumbo-jumbo to a stage-setting minimum. Best of all, the characters are well-defined without overdoing the quirk factor that often plays into such disaster-story ensembles.


'11 A.M.'

MPAA rating: None; in Korean with English subtitles

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Playing: At CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles


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