What’s rock climbing good for? Well, turns out it might be a skill that can save you in an urban disaster. K-pop star Yoona from SNSD stars alongside Cho Jung-seok (The Drug King, King 2 Hearts) in Exit, a Korean disaster flick set in modern Seoul.
While many viewers might be drawn to Yoona’s first lead role as an actress, admittedly her character Eui-ju plays second fiddle to Yong-nam (played by Cho Jung-seok): an unemployed, single man who still lives with his parents. In some ways, Yong-nam embodies the modern Korean millennial: no job, no girlfriend, and no house.
Yong-nam’s sole hobby (and the only thing he’s actually good at) is rock climbing. However, after Eui-ju (who he met in a rock climbing club) friend-zoned him, he quit the sport and passes his time by exercising at a local public park—to the amusement (and maybe pity) of park-goers.
Eui-ju is doing slightly better in life, working as the assistant manager for a restaurant. However, she has to contend with her supervisor (who happens to be the son of the restaurant owner) making sexual advances on her. Yong-nam arranges a birthday party for his mom at Eui-ju’s restaurant, in what we can only imagine is an attempt to make another move on Eui-ju.
Climbing to the Top
The night goes awry when a disgruntled chemical engineer releases a toxic gas in the middle of Seoul. The toxic gas is fairly dense, so Eui-ju, Yong-nam, and his family try to escape by reaching the roof of the building where they can be rescued by helicopter. This is where the rock climbing backstory kicks in—the door to the roof is locked, and naturally, the only way to solve that problem is for Yong-nam to climb up the building’s side and unlock the door to the roof from the outside (we’ll briefly suspend our disbelief that they couldn’t simply pick the lock or break down the door).
Without giving too much away, that initial climb is just the start—Eui-ju and Yong-nam end up climbing across a number of other buildings in Seoul in an attempt to escape the deadly gas. At one point, they even zipline between two skyscrapers. If you’re scared of heights, be ready for a thrill—the climbing scenes remind us that at any moment, our main characters might plummet to their deaths hundreds of feet below.
Exit sets itself apart from American disaster flicks by keeping its plot light-hearted. It employs the signature humor found sprinkled throughout many Korean movies—whether when Yong-nam has to empty out a backpack full of stolen soju to make room for climbing equipment, or borderline-ridiculous scenes like when Eui-ju uses mannequins to exaggerate the number of people on a rooftop to attract a rescue helicopter. Yong-nam and Eui-ju even become minor internet celebrities as Seoul residents live-stream their escape ordeal through drone footage.
At times, Exit seems like a metaphor for the lives of millennials around the world (but especially in Korea, where the condition is more acute). Beyond the state of both Yong-nam and Eui-ju’s mediocre lives, the entire ordeal of being forced to climb from skyscraper to skyscraper with no end in sight reminds us of the world of millennial burnout—the pair even have an emotional breakdown on the roof of one building when they think all hope is lost, with Yong-nam crying, “everyone said things would work out for me!” And of course, the fact that netizens abound on social media ultimately comes to their rescue, and throws them a literal rope, is perhaps the best metaphor for the luck that propels one from taking pictures of food on Instagram to “social media influencer” status.
A Yoona Movie?
However, it’s disappointing that Yoona’s Eui-ju was relegated to a secondary role in the film. It seemed that the entire plot could have progressed without Eui-ju at all—Yong-nam could have escaped entirely on his own, and it would not have affected the story that much, if at all. Like many Yoona fans are, we too were excited to see Yoona advance her movie career after a fairly minor role in Confidential Assignment—unfortunately, Exit doesn’t really afford much opportunity for her to take on a more complex role.
Further, while Exit’s trailer might have suggested a rekindling romance between Yong-nam and Eui-ju, the film left this point unaddressed. Sure—the duo manages to perform harrowing feats as they scale skyscrapers in tandem, but they barely get as far as a hug by the end of the movie.
That’s a shame. Both Yoona and Cho acted well in Exit, but their characters were not given much of a chance to develop as individuals or as a couple over the course of the film. It also felt like Exit ended prematurely—the audience wasn’t given much closure on whether Yong-nam and Eui-ju would actually get together, or whether Yong-nam would find meaningful employment. One can only speculate that with his new-found internet fame, Yong-nam might have started a rock climbing studio, or at the very least, an Instagram account.
Screenwriting issues aside, Exit is worth a look for any fans of Yoona—after all, we don’t get to see Yoona dangling on a construction crane in any of SNSD’s music videos (though one gets close). At the end of the day, Exit is a light-hearted, entertaining flick that, while dramatic and intense in a few acrophobia-inducing moments, remains playful enough to be a casual watch—just don’t expect much in the way of deep character development.
“Exit” premiered in Korea on July 31st, 2019, and in the US on August 2, 2019 at CGV Cinemas in Buena Park and Los Angeles. “Exit” will be broadly available across the US on August 9, 2019.
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Exit (Korean: 엑시트) —South Korea. Dialog in Korean. Directed by Lee Sang-geun. Released July 31st, 2019. Running time 1 hour 40 minutes. Starring Lim Yoona and Cho Jung-seok.