Neon lights and holograms light the rainy streets of a depressing future city, while cop R’s life spirals out of control in writer/director Byung-chun Min’s reworking of Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), Natural City (2003). Even with a chicken alarm clock to wake up with, R isn’t satisfied until he gets his drunk hands on despondent, nearly expired cyborg Ria. There’s also a young prostitute/fortune teller/gardener living in the slums who inexplicably loves R. Oh, and there’s a cop who likes R for some reason, and keeps trying to save him. And some killer cyborgs (who never miss a spinning class). And a creepy little albino-Yoda guy who knows his brain-chips. These characters very, very slowly start coming together, and I guess a plot begins to develop.
Sadly, R seems to be our hero, but is such a colossally unlikable A-bag that not only do I have a hard time caring if he lives or dies, I actually want to see him fail miserably. Actually, I want his cop buddy to put two in the back of the head and toss the body in the river. I don’t need my protagonists to be nice, heroic, or completely likable. But, some modicum of moral fiber, coolness, or something good needs to be present for me to relate.
The plot is a little difficult to put together, at least on first viewing. I’ve seen this movie at least three times now, and feel I’ve got a solid handle on it. There are a few twists and turns and identity revelations that you can miss if you’re not paying attention. But, when all is said and done, and the chips are down, it’s still pretty much a rehash of Blade Runner.
That brings me to the visuals, which again owe a lot to Blade Runner, especially when characters are out and about in the city, getting rained on. Interiors remind me a lot of the Alien franchise. And then there are the semi-post-apocalyptic ghettos. It’s all put together to good effect. The world is one I’d like to see more take place in. It’s lived-in enough to feel real, while being exotic enough to be interesting. And while the CG is often unimpressive, it’s not off-putting, and it certainly doesn’t get in the way.
Oddly, for a movie that is kind of slow paced, the occasional action scenes used to spice it up have the opposite effect. Some of the gags are cool, with limbs exploding and the like. But the scenes tend to grind the movie to a halt just when it needs to speed up.
The actors all seem fine and the world interesting. But the script just isn’t strong. Too slow a pace, and an homage so close to the original as to feel plagiaristic. With almost universally unlikable characters, try as I might, I could never bring myself to invest emotionally in the outcome. So, when the bloody climax begins, the slow motion kicks on, and the lady singer let me know I’m watching Drama, I found myself checking my watch. The best thing about Natural City is that it makes me want to go back and watch Blade Runner again. It’s been too long.