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Do Kyung-soo is a lone survivor trying to get back home from "The Moon."

Opening at AMC Grapevine Mills this weekend, The Moon is the story of a South Korean manned mission to outer space using only technology developed in the country. That’s much like the story of the film itself, as the special-effects used to depict this science-fiction yarn were also done entirely domestically. The point is less about whether the film works as a piece of art than as a demonstration to show that the local talent can pull off something like this. As the latter, it works.

In 2029, the country sends three men into space to become the first non-American astronauts to walk on the Moon. Navy SEAL Hwang Sun-woo (Do Kyung-soo) gets crapped on because he’s the only man on the mission who isn’t an Air Force pilot, but he’s the only survivor when a solar wind causes an explosion. He watches helplessly from the safety of the shuttle as his fellow astronauts die outside. Down on Earth, South Korea’s space agency prioritizes bringing Hwang safely back home. The entire space program rests on his fate, because it’s seven years removed from a catastrophic failed mission that resulted in the loss of three astronauts. The flight director from that mission, Kim Jae-guk (Sol Kyung-gu), is plucked out of exile to help bring the man back.

You can easily pick out the movie’s numerous debts to Gravity and The Martian, and the movie’s setting in South Korea doesn’t inspire any creative touches in this well-worn territory. That doesn’t matter so much as the soap opera contrivances. Hwang’s father was the mission director on that failed mission who committed suicide out of guilt, while Kim’s ex-wife (Kim Hee-ae) just happens to be in line to be the next director of NASA and in position to nudge the Americans into helping rescue Hwang. It all leads to entirely too many shots of the technicians at mission control cringing in terror as their man suffers yet another setback.

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The special effects are the star here. Writer-director Kim Yong-hwa has plenty of experience with these from his Along With the Gods movies that took place in the afterlife and featured extravagant renderings of the Buddhist version of Hell. Here the zero-g environment of the shuttle looks comparable to Hollywood space movies, and there’s a great set piece when Hwang, having landed on the Moon to complete the mission, finds himself having to drive his moon rover through a meteor shower. Perhaps The Moon means more to fans of Korean movies than to the general public, but its existence looks to prime the country to produce a better science-fiction crowd-pleaser.

The Moon
Starring Do Kyung-soo and Sol Kyung-gu. Written and directed by Kim Yong-hwa. Not rated.

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