Humidity Alert, 2021.
Directed by Bong Soo Ko.
Starring Baek Seung-Hwan, Lee Hee-Jun and Ko Ju-Hwan.
A special Q&A screening of a new film causes chaos for a cinema trying to deal with COVID-19 restrictions.
We all know that cinemas have faced a tough time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially forced to close as the world went into varying degrees of lockdown, they were subsequently able to open their doors under heavy restrictions and with the risk that any development in the progress of the disease could force them back into darkness. It’s into that world that director Bong Soo Ko’s Korean comedy Humidity Alert emerges – but sadly, it has very little to say and few laughs to fill that void.
Lovably timid cinema usher Charles begins the day by asking his lazy, unsympathetic boss for a pay rise, as he’s now doing the work of three people. He’s then tasked with managing a special screening of new movie The Youthful You, with the director and two stars in attendance. Also along for the ride is one of the supporting actors, who hopes the movie will be his big break and has even brought a blind date along to see him on the silver screen.
Humidity Alert is shooting for a sort of ramshackle comic charm. Deliberately episodic in nature, it essentially pits the guileless approach of Charles against a series of absurd caricatures, including the pretentious director who refuses to have his temperature logged and the film critic affronted by the absence of free food. The latter may or may not be a spot-on depiction. I couldn’t possibly comment.
Sadly, the movie’s comedy appears to be lost in translation – if indeed it’s there at all. Every cast member chooses to give it both barrels, leaving Charles as the only anchor point amid the tsunami of heightened characters. The episodic structure means none of the sub-plots are ever given true room to shine and, as a result, the movie is messy and unfocused. All of that would be forgivable if the comedy was there. But, for the most part, it isn’t.
There’s no doubt that cinephiles will find a few things to enjoy here. The film within a film is a knowingly terrible slice of quasi-art melodrama and the bureaucracy of the multiplex will be familiar to anyone who visited a picture palace within the early weeks of reopening in 2020 and early 2021. But, as with many of the pandemic-based movies currently making their way into the world, it already feels like a dated and annoying reminder of a difficult time we’re just about beginning to leave behind.
If you’re going to make a film set during the era of COVID-19, imagination is key. The wounds of the pandemic are raw for many of us and will likely remain so for years to come. It’s natural for filmmakers to want to depict one of the most significant events in the last century of human history, but there’s little sense in simply retreading experiences we’ve all shared so recently without much of a fresh angle. As a salute to hard-working cinema staff in adverse circumstances, there might have been mileage in Humidity Alert but, as a nudge-wink film world satire, it has very little of substance to say and barely a chuckle in sight.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.