Cyberpunk Review » Natural City

January 16, 2006

Natural City

Year: 2003

Directed by: Byung-chun Min

Written by: Byung-chun Min

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Very High

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Very High

Key Cast Members:

  • R: Ji-tae Yu
  • Ria: Rin Seo
  • Cyon: Jae-un Lee
  • Rating: 9 out of 10

    Natural City screen capture

     

    Overview: Natural City is a high priced attempt by the Korean movie industry to break into the Scifi Genre. The quality of the effects in Natural City clearly shine, both in the absolutely terrific set pieces, the painted backgrounds and the very realistic future setting. This is a cyberpunk movie to its core, with every possible aspect of cyberpunkness oozing from every pore of this movie. We get cyborgs, genetically engineered and cybernetically enhanced people, dominating corporations, theft and greed, seedy underground people and scenes, information access issues, and MASSIVE cyberpunk style. But truly, the reason Natural City rates this high is the absolutely wonderful cyborg character study in exploring issues of humanity.

     

    Natural City screen capture

     

    The Setting: Natural City as a title is 180 degrees from what you get in a setting - nothing is real here. In this dystopian setting, genetic engineering and cyborg development have become an accepted way of life. Pretty much everyone in this city lives a miserable existence, in fact, its expected that life is pain. Vacations are taken in the equivalent of a Star Trek Holodeck type machine. The ultimate dream of everyone in this city is to become rich enough to retire to a floating hotel called Muyoga (see the picture immediately below), which advertises that it can erase your current memory and place you in a "virtual" life of your own choosing. This is extremely interesting, especially when compared to Oshii’s Avalon, in which one view of the the "ultimate" life is one where you are in a simulated reality of your own mind even though your body is a slobbering mess in the "real" world.

     

    Natural City screen capture

     

    In Natural City, Cyborgs perform a myriad of societal functions - everything from entertainment and dancing, to restaurant helpers to working on the police force. To perform all these functions effectively, Cyborgs have a degree of self-awareness. This causes significant complications when their expiration date nears, as they know what it means to "expire." While some of the characteristics seem vaguely familiar to another far more famous cyberpunk movie (cyborgs with expiration dates, for instance), the story itself is radically different.

     

    Natural City screen capture

     

    The Story: Natural City centers on the internal struggles of a highly talented cop named "R." He is tasked with finding and capturing renegade cyborgs, but ends up falling in love with a cyborg dancer named Ria who’s expiration date is only 3 days off. The movie centers on R’s compromising his principles and dealing with the cyborg underworld in a vain attempt to find a way to save his Ria. He finds a shady cyborg doctor who promises that if he finds a person with the right genetic match, he can inject part of their brain cells into Ria, which will save her. The doctor finds such a match in a street girl named Cyon.

     

    Natural City screen capture

     

    Complicating matters, R’s best friend Croy, who is also his boss and fellow police detective, has discovered his duplicity. During a raid to capture some renegade warrior cyborgs, Croy notices that R is not shooting them in the head (which kills them be wiping out their AI chip), but is instead going back later and collecting the AI chips to sell for money. Croy tracks R back to the shady doctor. Worse, one of the warrior cyborgs who escaped is also after Cyon for reasons that become all too apparent as the movie unwinds.

    Natural City screen capture

     

    The Look: Natural City’s atmosphere is a grimy, lived-in futuristic environment. In some of the police scenes, Natural City comes across like a live-action Jin Roh movie (Jin Roh is definitely an influence for the action visuals). The high-quality and very original Scifi set pieces and occasional CG fits wonderfully, and along with the artistic backgrounds add up to a very immersive experience. The surround sound is not stunning, but is certainly decent and doesn’t detract from the experience. On top of this we get some wonderfully symbolic visuals, such as when Cyon sits atop a stone eagle statue, dreaming of life on the virtual hotel.

     

    Natural City screen capture

     

    The Colors: Like most cyberpunk movies, Natural City uses one dominating color palette for the majority of the scenes. Blue is the color of choice, but varies from ultra-light to dark and dense blues. The lighter scenes usually depict high-tech human aspirations, whereas the darker scenes are left for massive action shots and for shots depicting the destruction of humanity, such as the gritty cyborg replacement lab. Every so often, we also get some really nice oranges and browns, but these colors are usually used more as chapter transitions.

     

    Natural City screen capture

     

    The Action: Natural City is a character exploration first, but the action and effects are on display, and in high quality. The action involves both slo-mo and high speed camera shots, along with LOTS and LOTS of blood and gore. The ending especially is somewhat of a gorefest, which is weird to see in a movie that is mostly a drama in nature. Also, near the end of the movie, we get treated to an evil, but ultra-hot cyborg warrior chick in skin tight lycra who engages in some major ass-kicking (see above for a pic of HER ass while kicking someone!). Talk about a plus! While we’re on the subject, we also get treated to some cute asian cyborg boobies at the beginning of Natural City - definitely a nice way to start the pic! (although, when you understand what the beginning boobie scene signifies it sorta takes away the fun).

     

    Natural City screen capture

     

    The Pacing: As I mentioned earlier, this IS a Korean movie. My wife is Korean, so I’m somewhat used to the pacing we see here. From reading a few reviews, Natural City has been panned for being way too slow and plodding in the middle. All I can say is, "Welcome to Korean Cinema." This is really a case where story telling is just different there. For a Korean, this movie is not at all slow, but has rather standard pacing, which means we get REAL in-depth and repeated scenes with the purpose of mood and detailed character study. Most important for Koreans is to be able to identify with the emotion and mood the characters are experiencing. Natural City takes the time to do this with all the main characters.

     

    Natural City screen capture

     

    The characters really build in believability and engagement as the story progresses. At the beginning, R appears quite shallow, as does his friend and the street girl Cyon. By the end, all three, and especially Ria, his cyborg lover grow to be characters you really empathize with. The motivations for all become clear, including their virtues and flaws. The ending is also a rather "normal" Korean dramatic love story ending, which is to say, one very different from how an American film might end. Its not a feel-good movie, but then again, few Korean dramas are.

     

    Natural City screen capture

     

    For me, the highlight of Natural City centered on Ria, the cyborg. To me, Ria captures the cyborg struggle for humanity better than any character in all cyberpunk movies save one scene (the Blade Runner’ sRoy Batty "I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe" soliloquy, of course). While I didn’t catch this the first time through, the very beginning of the movie is told from Ria’s perspective, and then really, the last third of the movie centers on Ria (minus the action sub-plots). There are a few scenes that make it clear she "knows" what’s happening to her. She is programmed to be a dancer, but as she reaches her expiration date, she no longer can do this well. In one scene, Cyon shows her the "1 day" notice that arrives in the "Fifth Element" style mail slot. As her "time" approaches, you really do get the feeling of the Rutger Hauer speech at the end of Blade Runner, although Ria conveys this sentiment more broadly over a number of scenes and images. I want to go into this further, but this starts coming off as a spoiler, so I’ve added a more elaborative discussion of Ria’s motivations (spoilers) after the screencaps on Page 2.

     

    Natural City screen capture

     

    The Bottom Line: If you like cyberpunk films, the visuals alone make this a MUST SEE. If you like character studies in science fiction settings, you probably also want to see this. I truly LOVE Natural City, but be warned, the pacing is different from what you might expect. This is a Korean movie, and certainly plays like one. Also, be warned - like Wonderful Days, the ending has standard Korean Melodrama type stuff. While some might argue this doesn’t belong in the top 10, for me there’s no doubt that it does. The action and visuals are great, but Ria’s story clearly forces it there if nothing else.

     

    Page 2: More Screen Caps and Ria’s Motivations Discussion (Spoiler)–>>

    ~See movies similar to this one~

    Tags: cyberpunk movie review

    This post has been filed under Man-machine Interface, Awesome Cyberpunk Themes, 9 Star Movies, Awesome Cyberpunk Visuals, Android Movies, VR Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 2000 - 2009 by SFAM.

    Comments

    April 5, 2006

    curt said:

    Damn–this was supposed to be released today (4/4), but it looks like it’s been pushed back another two weeks (to 4/18). I’m REALLY looking forward to it, based on this review and the screenshots!!

    SFAM said:

    Hi Curt, this is beginning to concern me as this is the second time it has been delayed at the last second (It was originally scheduled for near the beginning of March). But you remind me that I’ve intended on adding a page two of screencaps. I’ll get to this in the next day or so - Hopefully this will tide you over. :)

    Case said:

    curt, why don’t you just pick up the import? I have a very nice two-disc edition I picked up over two years ago that way.

    April 6, 2006

    SFAM said:

    I couldn’t wait either - I got the import long ago as well. But considering a far cheaper copy should be imminent, I can see waiting.

    April 7, 2006

    Case said:

    I didn’t pay all that much for my copy. Imported from Korea, it was only a scant $14.99 plus shipping for the 2-Disc Special Edition (perhaps because I knew the seller). Most “Asia Extreme” titles (which “Natural City” is to be, I understand) are in the $19.99-$29.99 range when they hit shelves.

    […] Back in January when I started Cyberpunkreview.com, some of my reviews and screen capturing weren’t as detailed as more recent ones. Sometimes, I now feel I haven’t given some of the better movies enough detail. This was the case for Natural City. I’ve gone back and added a lot more screen captures (a whole second page in fact), along with a bit more on the review. Natural City just has some terrific shots - many of which the initial review didn’t show. I expect to do this to a few more of the reviews, including Dark City, for instance. This post has been filed under Site Development by SFAM. Permalink • Print • Email this page […]

    April 9, 2006

    curt said:

    What region is that import? I’m afraid I’m still lagging behind when it comes to multi-region capability. I’m absolutely looking forward to this, in any case. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, SFAM!!

    SFAM said:

    Most Korean discs are Region 0 - this one’s no different. That said, the Region 1 disc should be coming out in like 9 days.

    April 22, 2006

    curt said:

    Just got mine yesterday and watched it twice! Thank you, thank you, thank you SFAM for bringing this movie to my attention! It’s not perfect (some characters are especially “flawed”), but just soaking in the cyberpunkishness bursting from this movie is a treat. I’d love to see more like it.

    SFAM said:

    Thanks for the kind words, Curt. To me, the more I watch this, the more I love Ria. Check my thoughts on page 2 of this review if you haven’t already.

    April 28, 2006

    DeadImpulse said:

    I just won this in a contest yesterday! I can’t wait to see it.

    SFAM said:

    Wow DeadImpulse! That sounds like a pretty cool contest. Congrats! :)

    June 12, 2006

    Jesse said:

    I reluctantly picked up Natural City at a Best Buy recently. Im always afraid to do this with foreign films because stupid Americans feel they need to edit everything and make it more “friendly” to us. I also picked up Oldboy here as well. Im starting to fear that both decisions may have been bad ones.

    Can anyone tell me if there is a difference between the American and Korean versions of Oldboy and Natural City? Given that neither one of my copies says anything about being a directors cut, nor do they have any editing credits to a studio or person outside of its native country.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Jesse, In looking at Amazon, it appears that the US R1 release of Natural City is just as long (113 minutes) as the Korean Import. The back of mind says 253 minutes, but I know it’s not that long (and I can’t read the rest of what the minutes relates to, but I’m guessing its the combined extras). Yesasia claims the Korean version is 112 minutes, so again, I’m guessing there is no difference in the film.

    Regarding Old Boy, I’ve heard only good things from the US release of this. I doubt this is mucked up either. I do agree with you though about getting US versions - After picking up the “Vampire Effect” which was chopped and shortened version of the “Twins Effect,” I always check very carefully.

    The other issue of course is the horrid dubbing that sometimes accompany them. The worse example of this for cyberpunk movies is the Italian movie, Nirvana. The US release doesn’t have the original Italian on it, and only comes with a truly horrid dubbing. It appears though that the R1 version of Natural City has subtitles, so again, I’m guessing you’re fine. But does this post mean you watched it and didn’t like it? If so and some parts come out incoherently, I’d recommend reading my comments on Page 2 of this review, and give it another viewing. It took two tries for me to fully appreciate Natural City.

    June 13, 2006

    Jesse said:

    I’ve yet to watch it again. I’ve been meaning to. I can not give an honest opinion yet. Although, I can say that I enjoyed most of it. As you said it took you two viewings to appreciate it, and I know why. It’s definately a film with a hell of a lot of ambition. Films like these are guaranteed to get multiple viewings from me before I can really digest the whole thing the way it was meant to be.

    Casshern is also a great example of this. You absolutely can not fully appreciate Casshern unless you’ve seen it multiple times. I must have seen that one around 7 or 8 times, and each time getting something new and deeper from it. I liked it the first time around just for the “ooh-ahh” factor, then after watching it over and over again you realize it is much, MUCH deeper than just that.

    BTW, when are you going to run a page 2 on Casshern? I’d love to see a discussion on how people translated some of the symbolism or philosophical issues.

    SFAM said:

    Oh wow - I promised to do a second page on Casshern a while ago. I even have the write-up on the symbols and deity stuff mostly done. I’ll try to get to this in the next few days. And I definitely agree that both movies have enough depth that they definitely require a second viewing - especially Casshern.

    August 14, 2006

    Hugo said:

    I actually feel asleep half an hour before the end, but that’s my fault for having too many late nights :P. ‘Natural City’ offered some great visuals and, as a character story, is very well done.

    Best (uh…one of only two :P) Korean film I’ve seen yet.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Hugo, Natural City worked very well for me the first time through, but I absolutely loved it upon second viewing. The character stuff, especially Ria, really jumped out at me more that time.

    August 21, 2006

    ETM said:

    I thought you might be interested in this, SFAM - a reviewer for the Sci-Fi Weekly has trashed Natural City: http://www.scifi.com/sfw/screen/sfw13336.html

    He gave it a D+, saying it’s “Blade Runner, but with a story that sucks”. Ouch.

    August 22, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Ah well, not everyone will like Natural City. I’ve encountered a few people who consider it a cheap Blade Runner knock off. This is a fine opinion to have but I disagree with it, as I do the reviewers comments about the characters, especially Ria.

    August 27, 2006

    djedi said:

    This movie is a modern Blade Runner reminiscence.
    Enjoy.

    September 20, 2006

    mattness said:

    IMHO it’s Blade Runner II :) .
    Really good movie (sometimes acton is too slow).
    Thanks to SFAM and this site I started to like Korean movies :) .
    Really impressive.

    November 8, 2006

    Bo said:

    I agree with hugo and that sci-fi guy. This movie made me sleepy. and that the story was very illogical and hard to follow didnt do it any good either.

    November 11, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Hi Bo, give it another viewing if you get a chance. You might find it becomes more coherent on the second pass - and check page 2 for some spoiler discussions.

    April 5, 2007

    erc1452 said:

    Unfortunately, I could just not enjoy this movie. In fact, I found myself skipping ahead near the end, just to get it over with.

    As SFAM mentioned, this movie is slow paced. It just dragged on, and dragged on; with nothing ever happening.

    And R. The guy was the scum of the earth; causing the deaths of many people, and showing no care about anyone other than himself. This gave me no reason to care about him at all; and therefore, I didn’t care about the movie at all.

    The beautiful Cyberpunk visuals were great, but not enough to save this movie.

    Eric

    April 6, 2007

    SFAM said:

    Hi Eric, sorry it didn’t work for you. I always feel bad when I cajole people into spending money to watch a movie, only to find out they didn’t like it. I obviously feel differently about it though.

    April 7, 2007

    kefka321 said:

    Nice review SFAM, ill probably pick this one up just to see the visuals alone hehe, but the story sounds solid from what you said in your review.

    April 10, 2007

    Caelum said:

    Just watched it

    Excellent visuals and acting from the two leads with brilliant production. Quality sets are used in different ways that probably saved a great deal of money yet didn’t make itself obvious.

    My only problems were with the squad fight scenes (the camerawork got real sloppy) and the ending, which drags on (as others have noted).

    Overall pretty good. Presented familiar themes of post-apocalyptica and a roboticized workforce with a uniquely Korean touch. :)

    April 11, 2007

    Caelum said:

    also- I wouldn’t tie this movie as closely to Blade Runner as others have. The antagonist cyborg in BR was deliberately intended to evoke our empathy- he’s more of a misled child with an impossible dream than a villan. Cypher/the Doctor in Natural City is just a cliche powermad bio scientist who wants to play god and master his own mortality. That contrast made the movies very different for me.

    Sure there’s Ria, but honestly I found her character (except from her relationship with R) boring, incomplete, and ignorable.

    July 10, 2007

    Pylon_Trooper said:

    Great site, by the way…first-time poster, long-time reader…yadda yadda. :D

    Yeah, just imported this one. I’d seen it a few years back when it was first out, bootlegged - of course. And, well…I did indeed love the first half of the movie. It just seemed to run out of steam by the end of it, and I’m generally very accepting of the somewhat plodding pace Korean cinema can deliver at times. But what great opening credits, regardless of GITS influences.

    It seemed to me the incidental effects stopped happening after the first hour, such as the initial high-shot of the virtual scenery bench in the plaza, with that excellent overlay of the grid-worked light shimmering across the floor…great little visual treats that are, essentially, part of the background. They are what make a cyberpunk film credible in my eyes. The venerable BR had that in spades, and thus created a totally credible world.

    I wanted to love this one, I really did…but, it turned into a cheap action flick by the end and didn’t know when to pull the plug.

    By the way, does Children Of Men fall into the category of CP, at least in some small way?

    July 11, 2007

    Stormtrooper Of Death said:

    Hi, I just watched Natural City.

    Great visuals, but …

    I still don’t know what the movie is about. A friend of me told me that the copy that I bought of Natural City, was not a complete movie, and that there were some chapters left out. Anyhow, it was a bit difficult to understand the movie.

    November 11, 2007

    Fabio said:

    Why Ria commits suicide just after realizing the flower will live? She realizes Doma asked for R’s help (when the monitor swithces off we see Ria reflected on the screen: it’s a choice). So maybe, as Roy Batty loved more the life the more he was near death, she dedided not to create problems to R. I don’t think she needs to be remembered, I think she knows she is an old lady to be managed all the time and, after creating a new life (the flower) she can happily stop creating problems.
    Also, lot of lonely people there. I think Cyon understood to respect his father’s will when she saw that Ria died alone with a flower. Like his father. In my view the movie heartfully explores the cyborgs but indicates that a human with a cyborg is still a lonely human. That’s a big jump since Blade Runner!

    December 2, 2007

    Tony_from_New_Zealand said:

    My take on natural city is that the makers wanted to make a sci-fi movie and decided that a good place to start was to look at Blade Runner and then try and copy some of the elements. It is like when a company first tries to get into car manufacturing, they get a model from an established manufacturer and try and copy it. Unfortunately the first attempt is never entirely successful and it takes several iterations before they get it right. That is exactly what happened with this movie.

    I have to give Natural City a poor rating overall.

    The people responsible for the visuals and style of the movie did a great job. The acting wasn’t bad, but the whole movie was let down by a terrible script. God that script sucks so bad. Also some aspects of the movie crossed over from being a homage to blade runner to being a shameless rip-off.

    One thing I really didn’t like was
    - The main character R. He was a complete jerk and entirely unlikeable. Right from the start of the movie a large number of his comrades died because of his selfish behavior ie not shooting the cyborgs in the head so he could steal the AI chips to sell on the black market. Also it is unbelievable that he could remain on the squad and keep getting second chances after his actions caused so many casualties among his comrades. So not only is the main character a jerk, his superiors are unbelievably stupid. I think it should be a rule in script writing 101 - do not make you main character a dishonest, unlikeable moron.
    - The attachment he has to the cyborg Ria seems very contrived, she doesn’t seem to demonstrate many characteristics that would make him do all the things he does to try and save her. True she is hot, but she is a cyborg right? Just get another hot model ! Also if the AI chips are recyclable (demonstrated by him stealing them from dead cyborgs and selling them on the black-market), just get a new cyborg chassis of the same model, and put the Ria AI chip in it !

    I could go on about the holes in the script, but suffice to say the main character seems to spend most of his time acting like an idiot, getting his colleagues killed, and chasing around after street girl cyon so he can steal her body to transplant the Ria personality into it!

    So in summary great visuals, but let down by lacklustre script. Also drags on on and is somewhat bloody and unpleasant in parts. I give this movie around 3/10. No way this is even half the movie blade-runner is. Also a B-movie with similar themes is Cherry 2000, which is infinitely more entertaining ! I agree with most of the reviews on this site, but Natural City is a dud !

    January 6, 2008

    Palette said:

    I had a strange feeling with this movie, mainly because its singular narrative, that as you said, it seems to be typical of a korean drama. But was not really a bad feeling, it was like I´ve been a little stunned.

    One of the many aspects that have impressed me is the way that we can see how really R is in-love with Rea. That means, of course, serious implications about love that can be “philosophically” discussed, but even more interesting I think it is the question about if that is just possible (I mean, if THAT kind of relationships is part of the human future or not). In effect, I think it is, and also that have some connexions with tue virtual reality issue.

    I would see the movie again… precisely I came to this review wondering if you had seen this movie, and in that case what do you think about it. I´m glad knowing you like it.

    February 28, 2008

    Mr. No 1 said:

    I’m afraid I have to agree with Tony_from_New_Zealand.
    I got this film after reading the review here and I was quite disappointed. The only part I barely enjoyed was the end of the film, after sealing the medical center.
    I would not give it a 3 though, but never a 9! 5, or 6 maybe. It’s hard to believe that this film has been rated higher than some films in the 8 stars category, or even lower. But then, I reckon SFAM and me do not always share points of view or tastes (ie: The 13th Floor, another disappointment).

    I like reading SFAM reviews and opinions, nevertheless. Great site =)

    April 2, 2008

    Da5id said:

    Finally saw this for the first time last night. I have such mixed feelings about it. The visuals are nothing short of hypnotic and brilliant. The acting was as good as anything you’ll see from anywhere on the planet. However, I did get distracted by 2 things. 1) The not-so-subtle Blade Runner inspired world. This could almost be billed as Blade Runner 2: Deckard’s Next Case. However, they did it justice and by the end I was no longer comparing every shot with it’s Ridley Scott parallel. 2) The linear story others have mentioned. This would’ve been one of the best sci-fi movies ever had the story been a little more nuanced and “novel like”. It felt like a beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted action movie.. and maybe that’s what it was. I would still agree with the 9/10 rating based on visuals and the linear story they did tell was pretty good with at least 1 decent twist.

    August 17, 2008

    synthetic_creature said:

    just watched natural city.
    i too have somewhat mixed feelings about it… it starts out pretty exciting with breathtaking visuals setting the stage for an amazing movie to come. The opening action segments form a kind of fast intense pace…
    then it goes downhill.
    the story just doesnt flow very well imo with the action segments being too random to keep it interesting. I do put this movie in a high place in my heart just for it being a modernized attempt and having amazing visual aesthetics… but overall i think blade runner was a timeless movie and this is pale in comparison.

    definitely worth watching… and experiencing tho.

    June 17, 2009

    LMXV said:

    I can’t watch a movie with great visuals and read subtitles at the same time. That’s the only reason I can’t enjoy this film.

    I still have it on dvd and I’ll give it many chances until I memorize one or the other.

    June 20, 2009

    m@d said:

    i agree.. this movie is not really cyberPUNK. it´s more like a low budged sci-fi love story with loads of boring moments.

    June 25, 2009

    Stormtrooper of Death said:

    Its not soo boring… I liked this movie

    November 17, 2009

    Zaphod said:

    Netflix has this movie available to stream on demand. Loved it. Pacing is good. Character development could have used a slight tweak. Another couple of lines of dialogue in the beginning could have better established the friendship between R and his boss. Other than that I found this movie to be great.

    Or maybe I just found this movie more enjoyable because I just got done watching Paranoia 1.0. I’ll have to watch it again.

    July 6, 2011

    Terramax said:

    From what I remember of this film, it had great visuals catastrophically marred by silly excuses for martial arts scenes which dragged the story and themes of the film away, kicking and screaming.

    August 4, 2012

    Yogen said:

    I rented this movie and I loved it. It takes a lot of influence (perhaps copy) from Blade Runner, but it never feels as a cheap copy, has its own feel, also reminds me of the Final Fantasy series.
    I really enjoyed it, very nice.

    January 23, 2013

    rell said:

    okay it easy kinda draggish and boring and chars were kinda dull but over still watchable

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