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Natural City (2003)
Writer and director: Min Byung-chun

review by Christopher Geary

This Korean sci-fi epic is quite blatantly inspired by Blade Runner, but it's so lively in its depiction of science fiction hardware in urban settings, and wholly affectionate of it's source, that it doesn't feel like a tawdry rip-off, even when things like the basic plot (cops hunt advanced 'robots') and visual elements - such as Blade Runner's famous 'advertising blimp' - are borrowed wholesale. With this in mind, we could and perhaps should give the writer-director the benefit of the doubt and properly view Natural City as a lovingly produced homage rather than a foreign language 'remake'.

Agent R (Yu Ji-tae) is a top officer with military police. His boss, Noma (Chang Yun), is concerned about his wayward, insubordinate friend, because R has fallen in love with nightclub dancer Ria (Seo Rin), a cyborg who only has days left before her artificial body expires. Lovelorn and desperate for help, R has an idea to use non-citizen street girl Cyon (Lee Jae-un) as a host for the brain program of his dying lady-love, but super-cyborg terrorist Cypher (Jung Doo-hong) is on the loose, plotting to make himself immortal, and he has designs on feisty young Cyon, too...
cyber-escape from Natural City
In addition to the obvious Blade Runner stylistic borrowings, Natural City also lifts some design elements, visual effects and genre concepts from The Matrix, The Fifth Element, Terminator 2, the RoboCop trilogy, nearly all of the Alien movies, Brazil, 12 Monkeys, and even Max Headroom, so it's incorrect to suggest that Min Byung-chun has stolen only from Ridley Scott's 1982 masterpiece. What saves Natural City from dismissal as straightforward B-movie fodder is that it skilfully and successfully transcends its genre sources, and is not entirely derivative at all.

The brotherly comradeship between heroes R and Noma, despite their vastly differing personalities and attitudes, is something that Blade Runner's hero lacked, and the uneasy rivalry in combat against homicidal cyborgs, and in criminality - when R himself breaks the law for personal gain, sets this often thought-provoking drama apart from most if not all of the Hollywood SF thrillers it mimics.

There are numerous film noir themes woven into the narrative, and the action-packed showdown in a DNA lab ready to self-destruct, is worth the wait, its bone-crushingly overwrought martial arts sequences, notwithstanding. I'll leave it to SF fans to discover the film's witty use of virtual reality, its quirky level of humour between Noma and his tech-girl, the highly sympathetic characterisation of Cyon, the erotic appeal of Ria, and the engagingly poetic denouement. This has far more to offer than being simply another Blade Runner clone. See it without making assumptions and you won't be disappointed.
Natural City

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military police hunt cyborgs in Natural City

the hero returns in Natural City

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