‘The Moon’ Review: A Decent Visual Showcase of a Space Survival Drama but Can’t Overcome Its Bloated Storyline

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Hollywood is no stranger to big-screen stories about lunar exploration. We have seen them in notable movies like ‘A Trip to the Moon’ (1902), ‘Apollo 13’ (1995), ‘Moon’ (2009), and ‘First Man’ (2018). But in the case of South Korean cinema, ‘The Moon’ marks the first time the country has finally landed its own lunar-related film.

Writer-director Kim Yong-Hwa, best known for his ‘Along with the Gods’ duology and of course, ‘200 Pounds Beauty’, treads familiar ground with a story that borrows heavily from a few Hollywood space movies. ‘The Moon’ boasts a ‘Gravity’-like sequence during the earlier part of the movie minus the latter’s ambitious, unbroken long take. The scene follows three Korean astronauts, with one of them including the young Hwang Sun-Woo (Doh Kyung-Soo, a.k.a. D.O. of the South Korean boy band EXO fame) on a space mission to land on the moon and collect some samples.

Unfortunately, things do not go as planned when a solar wind kills two of the senior astronauts midway, leaving Sun-Woo the only survivor, who happens to be in the space shuttle at the time of the tragedy.

We learn that this isn’t the first time a manned mission to the moon suffered a failure. Five years ago, Korea was about to make history on its maiden lunar mission, but an unfortunate explosion killed everyone on board. Their second attempt seems to be destined to fail, but Sun-Woo tries his best to stay alive with whatever resources are available on board.

Meanwhile, the mission control center crew is finding ways to bring Sun-Woo back home, and the only person who can help is Kim Jae-Guk (Sol Kyung-Gu). The latter was the flight director for the mission control center before he quit working at Sobaeksan Observatory in the Sobaek Mountains with an intern named Han-Byeol (Hong Seung-Hee).

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Jae-Guk hesitates at first but eventually agrees to assist on the rescue mission, with one of the reasons for overcoming his guilt after feeling responsible for the death of his colleague (Lee Sung-Min) related to the country’s ill-fated first lunar mission. He ends up seeking help from the general director of NASA and ex-wife, Yoon Moon-Young (Kim Hee-Ae), who has remarried and is named Jennifer Evans.

If you expect something as lean as ‘Gravity,’ Kim Yong-Hwa does things the other way around. That means he chose to stretch his story in multiple directions. Sun-Woo’s survival and rescue mission may have been a significant part of the plot. But Yong-Hwa also incorporates a backstory surrounding Kim Jae-Guk’s past and a bureaucratic subplot revolving around NASA and Yoon Moon-Young.

Given the grim nature of its storyline, Yong-Hwa attempts to lighten up the tone with some comic-relief moments, notably, Jo Han-Chul, who hams it up in his supporting turn as the Minister of Science and ICT. The writer-director even cranks the melodramatic route up to eleven, complete with amplified emotions and obligatory tear-jerking moments. I can’t help but feel the whole combinations feel heavy-handed, making its 129-minute runtime drags longer than it should.

There are some elements of ‘The Martian’ too, but Doh Kyung-Soo is no Matt Damon. Okay, such a comparison might sound unfair, but even judging by its own merits, Kyung-Soo’s acting is nothing to write home about. It’s not like he doesn’t emote or react accordingly while facing the increasingly dreadful situation of being stranded in space. And yet, I find it hard to root for his character’s ordeal on whether he would make it at the end of the day.

Perhaps a stronger or more substantial material for him to work with might help to elevate his performance. Veteran actor Sol Kyung-Gu delivers an adequate performance as the guilt-ridden ex-flight director determined to make amends. Kim Hee-Ae, best known for TV’s ‘The World of the Married,’ brings decent support to her role as the general director of NASA.

‘The Moon’ may feel like a bumpy ride to space with a mixed bag of plot and characters. The movie reportedly cost 28 million won to make (around $22 million, a mere fraction of the usual big Hollywood-sized budget for a space-movie blockbuster).

But the special effects are decent, if spotty in places. The movie contains some immersively cinematic and thrilling set pieces of Sun-Woo facing various dangers after subsequently landing on the moon’s surface.

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I wonder if Yong-Hwa trimmed the fats and just leave the essentials focusing primarily on Sun-Woo’s one-man survival in space instead of scattering the story all over the place. No doubt the result of a briskly-paced space survival drama, coupled with tighter editing would do this movie a huge favor.

SCORE: 5/10

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