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[NYAFF ’21] ‘Sinkhole’ review: South Korean disaster-comedy resonates with audiences

A surprisingly relevant comedy.

Sinkhole is a South Korean disaster film that weaves its comedic tale around “what next?” After over a decade, Park Dong-won and his family have moved into their new home they just bought. The night of their housewarming party, torrential rains cause a sinkhole that swallows the new home. As if that is not bad enough, it has begun to rain again, and the hole is filling up with water.

The film takes its time building up to what everyone knows is going to happen. Even without its title, Sinkhole has some great foreshadowing. Seemingly inconsequential events have an impact later on. It usually adds to the fun when a story gives its audience “a-ha” moments, and this is no different. People watching get to watch as the story comes together leading to the big event.

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Sinkhole also does an excellent job of mixing humor into its story. This is easier said than done as the film is not a series of pratfalls surrounding a disaster. The tone switches from a breezy comedy to something more serious as Mother Nature wreaks havoc. It is an odd decision that works for the film as a whole, but comes at the expense of the characters. Sinkhole develops its lead, but few others. They are there to ensure the plot moves forward, but play little active role in anything important. 

[NYAFF '21] 'Sinkhole' review: South Korean disaster-comedy resonates with audiences

Interestingly, Sinkhole has managed to resonate with South Korean audiences in unexpected ways. It has become the fastest film of this year to bring in one million theatergoers in the country. The theme of working years to afford a home may not seem like a box office draw, but it is relatable to South Koreans. (The rate of homeownership fell last year for the first time in the country in almost a decade.)

Movies strive to touch audiences in ways they can understand. It is hard to imagine a disaster-comedy striking a chord with moviegoers. Sinkhole does so, but not due to any joke or cataclysm. By touching on themes that seem more at home on a television show than a big budget movie, it has managed to bring audiences back to theaters. 

The New York Asian Film Festival takes place from August 6 – August 22. Screenings are live and online

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