Notes on the Korean Film “Pandora” (판도라)

Posted on May 14, 2017


Pandora1. Pandora (판도라) is a 2016 disaster film directed by Park Jeong Woo (박정우). In a small town somewhere in the south part of South Korea, there’s a nuclear power plant that provides livelihood to the residents. But a series of unfortunate events makes the nuclear power plant a “ticking bomb” of sorts.

2. The first 10 to 15 minutes of the film paints a clear picture of the conflict–all that’s wrong with Korean society.

  • Confucian hierarchy -There’s the clearly competent power plant manager who is overshadowed by an incompetent boss who knows next-to-nothing about power plants. As to know the incompetent boss was given his position, the audience has no clue except for a shot of him drinking soju with co-workers.

Once disaster strikes, the competent power plant manager steps up to try to save the          day–but not without opposition from his two incompetent higher-ups. The oft-cited            excuse for delaying and blocking much-needed actions is the need to seek the                      approval of the “headquarters.” Another is, “I am higher up in the hierarchy than                you, therefore, I know better”—which isn’t always true.

Another illustration of Confucian hierarchy is between the prime minister and the            president. Since the prime minister is older, he believes he has more authority and            experience, which leads him to boss the president around. This also leads him to                conceal important facts from the president, which makes the president unable to                take the lead in managing the disaster.

  • Hasty and always-in-a-hurry (성격이 급하다; “빨리빨리” culture) – The power plant workers, at the start of the film, did a hasty job of fixing the broken pipes. There is a proper way of doing it, but they insisted on doing what they think is fast and easy–at the expense of safety.


  • Clash between public service and business interests – Instead of saving the people, what the higher ups in the power plant were concerned about was saving the power plant. Thus, even if abundant sea water can solve the impending meltdown, the higher ups blocked this.

All these things will later add up to explode–along with the nuclear power plant.

3. However, what saved the day were the sacrifices made by the common people, as well as the new-found strength of the young president, thanks to the support of his wife. It appears that in the world created by this film, order can be restored through the sacrifice of the common people and decisive leadership of a president.

4. I can now understand why this film was at the top of the box office. It’s a tightly written disaster movie, the conflict is something we can relate to on a personal level, and the special effects are satisfactorily executed.

Imagine if this were a Hollywood disaster film. All you will probably get are explosions. A spectacle without substance. There will be no portrayals of complex human emotions, wants, and conflicting interests, unlike in Pandora. This is why I like Korean film.