11:00 AM (Yeolhansi)

Korea (2013) Dir. Kim Hyun-seok

Sci-fi is not a genre Korean cinema has tackled on a grand scale. Of the few select films released under this banner the closest appear to be Doomsday Book, Sector 7 and maybe Save The Green Planet, possibly even The Host too although that is more a monster movie. Kim Hyun-seok, whose previous film was the comedy Cyrano Agency, decided to give it a go with 11:00 AM, but has picked himself the rather tricky subject of time travel for his maiden voyage into this complex genre.

In the near future, Professor Woo-Seok (Jung Jae-young) secures Russian backing to develop a time machine which he and his crew – Young-Eun (Kim Ok-Vin), Ji-Wan (Daniel Choi), Chief Jo (Lee Dae-Yeon) Young-Sik (Park Chul-Min), Moon-Soon (Lee Gun-Joo) and Goong Sook (Shin Da-Eun) – finally test out after three years of development. Woo-Seok and Young-Eun aim to travel forward in time twenty-four hours but for a fifteen minute period only. It is successful but then they arrive they discover the lab is a wreck, with the power off and fires around the premises.

Woo-Seok is attacked from behind but fights off his assailant while Young-Eun is trapped elsewhere. With time running out Woo-Seok returns to the pod with Young-Eun unable to reach it in time, but upon returning to the past Young-Eun is discovered hidden in the base of the pod. Meanwhile as the crew try to discover what went wrong via CCTV footage so they prevent the lab’s destruction they find the files have been corrupted with a virus of Young-Eun’s creation.

So what is going on? Time travel films, especially one that are serious and rely a lot on being scientifically credible while embracing the obvious fictional drama remit, can be a nightmare for both the viewer and the writer if all the threads aren’t successfully brought together in a satisfying manner. 11:00 AM will confuse you, there is no escaping that fact but it tries very hard to make sure that its convoluted piecing together of the various facets within the conundrum of the infamous time paradox have some merit.

The conceit of the plot turns out to not necessarily be a case of “what?” but “who” then “why?”. In the opening scene we learn that Woo-Seok’s motivation for time travel appears to be the death of his wife from cancer. By the end of the film we find it runs a lot deeper than that, as it does for Young-Eun, whose acts of sabotage are indirectly born out Woo-Seok’s issues from the past.

It’s best to leave things there otherwise it would spoiling the story but then again it does that itself when a few untouched clips of the CCTV reveal what is going to happen in the future. We even know when (you’ve guessed it) and who it involves but getting there is the mystery which unfolds. The script from Lee Seung-hwan does an amazing job in keeping us in suspense as to how these events unfold, teasing us with plenty of misdirection and red herrings along the way.

Of equal importance is how these scenarios go down, again toying with our expectations based on what we already know whilst being creative in the construction and execution. The burden of suspicion switches from each character at various points in the story, although their motives are not always as black and white as we are lead to believe. The Russian participation is the one plot thread that is the weakest as it seem to be significant in the first half of the film before becoming an irrelevance later on. This is not a spoiler more of an observation.

Another clever aspect is the way that we are lead to believe this is solely about time travel when there is in fact just the one actual time leap made (well, two but you’ll see…) – instead this is about the effects of this scientific marvel. The key concern is human nature and whether the power to alter the past or future is ethical, even if the situation demands it. Again in the big reveal/plot twist it is the people who are forced into making the decisions they do BY the people.

This might make the film sound a lot cleverer than it is but for 99 minutes we are both entertained and given food for thought. Made on a big budget – at least by Korean standards – the film is damn fine looking with a futuristic set up that isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. The computer sets ups and 3D graphic screens borrow from other well known influences and integrate them within this unique setting while the special effects on the whole are very convincing, most notably in the fire scene.

Director Kim creates a sterile and uniformly sci-fi atmosphere for the first part of the film before switching to unnerving psychological action thriller for the second half. The use of light and shows is effective in shifting the mood into horror territory, and becomes a vital element in the telling of the story as the pieces come together.

Kim has chosen a highly capable cast for this film, lead by the almost ubiquitous Jung Jae-young, who can now add sci-fi thriller to his ever-expanding CV. Here he brings his vast experience to a role that requires him to emote on many different levels as Woo-Soek suffers from his dream. His biggest support comes from Kim Ok-Vin, an actress also with a varied career behind her, going from indie darling to commercial fare like this with chameleon like ease, again tasked with playing another complex character.

Had this been given more time and the script deeper exploration 11:00 AM might have been a cerebral sci-fi thriller in the vain of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but for a popcorn flick it offers a well crafted and intelligent entertainment in its own right.