Look: Space is scary. An environment so deadly you have to seal yourself off from it or you die? Distances so vast that communicating with even the nearest astronaut has a time delay? One small misstep controlling your craft or yourself and you float off into literally nothing with no chance of rescue? Not for me, thanks.

This is why space rescue stories are so much more thrilling than stories about castaways or being lost at sea. And yet The Moon (Deo Mun / 더 문), written and directed by Kim Yong-hwa, still feels the need to rely on melodramatic clichés. It even sacrifices the inherent tension of the time lag to achieve them.

In 2029, five years after the first try exploded during launch, Korea once again attempts to become the second nation to land people on the Moon — three dudes, to be precise. But midway there, some massive solar flares damage the ship, and two of the crew go out to repair communications antennae and stuff. A newsreel-type montage shoves all this information down our throats in the first ten minutes of this 130-minute film, and woe to you if you’re a slow subtitle reader (or chyron reader, for Koreans).

Things keep going wrong (as they’re wont to do), the spacewalkers die violent deaths, and we’re left with the youngest and greenest of the lot, technical specialist Hwang Sun-woo (Doh Kyung-soo, member of boyband EXO). Fortunately, the commander’s last words happen to include the one thing Sun-woo needs to do to get the ship more or less fixed. The show must go on!

Here we get the first of many illogical plot points. It’ll take two days for the ship to be remotely repaired by a team led by Kim Jae-guk (Sol Kyung-gu), who’s the flight director of the earlier failed mission as well as the ship’s designer (which is why he’s brought in — against his will, hint hint). It would also take two days to execute Plan B: to be picked up by NASA’s Lunar Gateway space station, whose flight director happens to be Yoon Moon-young (Kim Hee-ae), Jae-guk’s ex-wife. Either option sounds good, right? Instead, Sun-woo decides to continue the mission and land on the Moon by himself, despite someone at Ground Control mentioning that he can’t fly the ship on his own. Because of patriotism.

And if you’re not the nationalist type, he also later drills up an ice core from the south pole, where India recently landed. For science!

A film like this is mostly plot, so I don’t have the space to summarize everything. Suffice it to say that everything that can go wrong does go wrong, including such special effects expenditures as meteor showers, moonquakes, explosions, super low temperatures, the lander aiming in the wrong direction, a good handful of lucky coincidences, and lots and lots of melodrama. (Fake tears count as special effects, right?) Most of the spectacle is satisfying, and the thrills are real.

Comparisons to Gravity (2013), The Martian (2015), Ad Astra (2019), Stowaway (2021), and even 2009’s Moon (for its title alone) come to mind, but The Moon has one other obstacle the other films don’t: idiots on Earth. For one, there’s Kang Han-byeol (Hong Seung-hee), Jae-guk’s idiot intern, who proposes a boar-alerting campfire while Jae-guk hunts boars (in a scene that echoes Gerard Butler’s introduction in 2018’s Hunter Killer) and later fails to communicate key information til it’s too late.

At least for the last point she can blame Korea’s stifling patriarchy for making her wait her turn to speak. The Minister of Science and ICT (Information and Communication Technology), played by Jo Han-chul, has only himself to blame for his buffoonery. His introduction is as a literature major leading the science ministry, and the film turns him into the joke of every single scene he’s in. It doesn’t let up. He’s the annoying guy who keeps asking “WHAT’S HAPPENING???” when the experts are trying to think, and the first to cast blame when the opportunity presents itself — on others, of course. His intrusions don’t even add to the exposition, as he’s even more out of the loop than the viewer.

But even the best acting succumbs to the over-the-top direction. Doh and Sol acquit themselves respectably otherwise. The real star here is Kim Hee-ae, the NASA flight director, and the only Korean woman in a position of influence. Her English, though imperfect, conveys emotion clearly, and her every appearance comes with a sense of gravitas, aided by the racist as fuck (White) superiors with whom she often shares a scene. Alas, for the climax Director Kim has her deliver what’s supposed to be a rousing speech in English about unity across national boundaries that even a native speaker would find it hard to carry off.

Perhaps surprisingly, I still recommend seeing The Moon in theaters if you’re going to see it at all. At least you’ll enjoy the explosions.

The Moon is in theaters.

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TNL Editor: Kim Chan (@thenewslensintl)

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