Disaster movies don’t normally come with a serious storyline. Normally they are films full of amazing special effects, loud noises and people running for their lives. A decent screenplay is normally the last thing on the filmmakers’ minds – but the latest film from South Korean director Kim Yong-hwa (Take Off) bucks that trend as it delivers both amazing visuals and a biting screenplay that makes a strong political statement.

In fact, to just call The Moon a decent disaster film might be understating it because this is an absolute gem – perhaps even one of the best films we have seen in the genre over the past decade.

Set in the near future The Moon chronicles the events of South Korea’s second manned space mission. Five years earlier their first expedition ended in disaster. Under the watchful eye of the then space mission director Kim Jae-guk (Sol Kyung-guPublic Enemy) the first mission exploded killing all on board.

The second mission starts off uneventfully but then everything changes when a strong solar wind causes a shocking disaster. Two crew members die leaving one astronaut, Hwang Sun-woo (Doh Kyung-soo – My Annoying Brother), to fend for himself. That in itself is an issue as he hasn’t got the experience to keep the shuttle running.

As Sun-woo tries to keep the mission on track back on Earth at the Naro Space Centre they work hard to try and convince Jae-guk to return to his old role, despite him suffering from post-traumatic stress, while trying to talk NASA into helping them. A move that seems futile seeing that NASA warned South Korea from attempting to go into space again.

The Moon is very much a movie that is told in two sections. First of all, you have all the action set out in space. There are catastrophic spacewalks, the tension of Sun-woo deciding to continue his journey and land on the moon and then comes the meteor shower that sends the film into an action over-drive that brings director Kim Young-hwa’s brilliant action film-making skills to the fore.

Then there is the second storyline set back on Earth. It is here that the strength of Young-hwa’s screenplay is on display. Not only does it tackle the storyline of a man suffering from post-traumatic stress trying to put his life back together again, but it also looks at the political ramifications of what has just happened. Not only does it show senior officials worried about the political fallout from the disaster but also explores the relationship between Naro and NASA and even has the courage to ask the question why NASA always feels like they have the power to dictate what the rest of the world’s space programs are doing. It’s not hard to see the parallel between that and the way the American Government acts towards other nations.

Often a film in this genre will shy away from anything serious and just rely on the action sequences to make it work but with The Moon it really is the brilliant screenplay mixed with the action that makes it a memorable film. Even making the head of NASA a former Naro employee and ex-partner to Jae-guk brings a whole new dramatic level to the film that works amazingly well.

The amazing screenplay also lends itself to some great acting performances. Sol Kyung-gu is stunning as the emotionally wrecked Jae-guk. It is rare but this is an Oscar-worthy performance in a genre film. Also amazing is Doh Kyung-soo he shows his brilliance during the on-moon action sequences but still has a dramatic acting side when needed. The other powerful performance in The Moon comes from Kim Hee-ae (Moonlit Winter) who plays the torn NASA boss – again she is someone who puts in an award-worthy performance here.

The film’s only weakness is that it tries to do too much with its storyline in space. While the twists and turns in the plot certainly add to the suspense levels there is a strong feeling that perhaps too many different disasters seem to fall on Seon-woo when realistically the solar wind and meteor shower are probably more than enough.

That aside though The Moon is one of the cinematic highlights of 2023. This is the film that many expected 2013’s Gravity to be. But while Gravity was a major disappointment The Moon is not. Not only is this one of the best films of this year it is an absolute masterpiece in the disaster movie genre.

4.5/5 Stars