It’s the near future and most of the major powers are working together to expand the exploration and exploitation of space, including an international station orbiting the moon. South Korea has decided to go its own path, however, pulling its top scientists back home from NASA to create its own Space Agency. Unfortunately, the launch of its first manned lunar mission, the Narae-ho, proves a deadly failure. This produces enormous angst as the Agency tries to figure out exactly what went wrong and pull together a new mission. Five years later the Woori-ho is ready for launch, manned by dedicated Korean astronauts Choo Yoon-jong, Lee Sang-won, and Hwang Sun-woo (Kyung-soo Do).
The mission is plagued with problems both political and environmental, and by the time the Korean ship has made it to lunar orbit, it’s no surprise that a freak solar storm has destroyed half the ship and tragically killed two of the crew. The only astronaut left, Sun-woo, turns out to be an ostensibly tough ex-military man who keeps bursting into tears when confronted with the technical challenge of piloting the spaceship. Somehow the Korean space agency forgot to train him for basic tasks like establishing orbit around the moon and guiding the lander to the surface. Comms are down, though, so mission control back in Korea can’t remote control anything. Worse, while the International Space Station is fairly close in its own lunar orbit, relations between the Koreans and the United States (who control the ISS) are sufficiently poor that the official NASA response to a plea for help is that they’re busy and it’s not an option.
One of the top people in NASA, however, is Yoon Moon-young (Kim hee-ae), who is loyal to NASA but hasn’t forgotten her Korean heritage. No surprise, she proves to be a vital asset when things get particularly grim. Friends in high places, and all that.
Current mission controller Jung Min-Gyu enlists former Narae-ho mission director Kim Jae-guk (Sol Kyung-gu) to help the Korean Air and Space Center team bring Sun-woo home. The problem is, every time the team seems like it may have made progress on that front, another terrible thing occurs. System failures, unexpected lunar events, an enormous meteor shower on the far side of the moon, and endless bureaucratic stumbling blocks do not make things easy. Welcome to The Moon.
In fact, the United States is consistently portrayed as arrogant and heartless, more interested in its own lunar mission goals and its ability to control what happens in the ISS than any sort of humanitarian effort to save an astronaut’s life. By the end, the NASA administrators and their security personnel are almost comically villainous, a caricature that might adversely impact the ability of Americans to enjoy this thriller.
The visuals and effects are excellent in the film, and the story borrows ideas from a variety of other space exploration movies, most notably the early, contemplative movie Marooned, and visual ideas from the underwhelming Gravity. The acting is decent, though Korean boy band performer turned actor Kyung-soo Do is so quick to tears in his dramatic role that it will cause viewers to wonder how his astronaut ever qualified for the lunar mission in the first place.
The biggest problem with The Moon, however, is one that many thrillers share, what I call the “And Then…” syndrome. You’ve seen it in many movies and TV shows, where the hero tries to get a handle on a tough situation just to have another bad thing happen. And then another. And another. Eventually, it can become a comic storyline, a guessing game of what’s going to go wrong next.
Having said that, I enjoyed The Moon and would recommend it. This is a film made for IMAX and 70mm screens, though we probably won’t have the option to see it on the big screen here in the United States. Can great visual effects make up for a banal storyline and too much of the “and then” narrative bumps? Yeah, sometimes it can. Recommended for sci-fi and space enthusiasts.