The opening moments of this gripping post-apocalyptic epic, directed by Um Tae-hwa (known for “Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned”), unleash an earthquake that transforms much of Seoul into smoldering ruins. Yet, as survivors strive to restore order, it becomes apparent that the real calamity has just begun.
From their vantage point on the balcony of the Hwang Gung apartment complex, Min-seong (Park Seo-jun from “Parasite”) and Myeong-hwa (Park Bo-young) witness a landscape dominated by corpses and rubble. Miraculously, their building remains standing while others crumble. A stranger with a small child arrives at their door, seeking refuge, followed by numerous others from the vicinity desperate for food and shelter. With no rescue teams in sight, the tenants convene, assess their limited resources, and decide to expel the “outsiders.” When Yeong-tak (Lee Byung-hun from “I Saw the Devil”), the elected leader, declares the outsiders must leave Hwang Gung, chaos ensues. From this point forward, tenants must be willing to defend their property by any means necessary.
In a manner reminiscent of fellow filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, Um skillfully blends astute social commentary with captivating genre storytelling. Adapted from the Cheerful Outcast webtoon by Kim Sung-nyung, “Concrete Utopia” serves as a sobering parable, tracing the characters’ gradual descent into ruthless tribalism—a reflection of contemporary global events. Only when hope appears lost do we glimpse the potential for generosity and much-needed self-determination.
The film unfolds as murder, chaos, and moral decay swiftly follow an apocalyptic earthquake that levels Seoul. Um Tae-hwa, along with co-writer Lee Shin-ji, molds familiar genre tropes into a brutal exploration of class warfare and the erosion of compassion. Human kindness becomes the initial casualty in the face of social disorder.
Against the backdrop of declining prosperity and crumbling apartment blocks, the narrative centers on a compassionate young couple (Park Seo-jun and Park Bo-young) and infuses shards of dark humor. “Concrete Utopia” keenly observes how swiftly we dehumanize the needy when our survival is threatened, questioning whether such actions are justifiable. As the residents elect a leader (Lee Byung-hun), flashbacks unveil his violent past, casting his present behavior in morally ambiguous light. He may not be who the residents think he is, but he might be precisely what they need.
Amid housing shortages saturating news feeds, “Concrete Utopia” relentlessly probes the meaning and moral obligations tied to homeownership. In moments of desperation, the film provocatively asks: How far would you go to protect what is yours?