It's Christmas Eve in South Korea and the centerpiece of the Seoul skyline, The Tower Sky is getting ready to celebrate. The pair of upscale residences are exclusive in their clientele and high tech in their amenities. Lee Dae-ho (Kim Sang-kyung) is the manager of the facility and he always has his hands full - mostly thanks to his precocious daughter who, on this day, wants her daddy to promise snow for the holidays. Sadly, Asia is experiencing a bit of a heatwave. Lee also has a thing for restaurant manager Seo Yoon-hee (Son Yi-jin) though he has a hard time expressing his true feelings.
In the meantime, owner, Mr. Jo (Cha In-pyo) is making preparations for his annual holiday party meant to inspire confidence in his complex and jealousy in those who cannot afford to live there. When a proposed flyover by helicopters results in a tragic accident, one of the two towers goes up in flames. This means that the local fire brigade, lead by Captain Kang Young-ki (Sol Kyung-gu)and featuring a fresh faced rookie named Lee Seon-woo (Do ji-han) must do all they can to battle the blaze and keep the building from collapsing, less the hundreds of people trapped inside all die.
Taking its time to set up situations and characters before delivering the Irwin Allen goods, The Tower is one cheeky riff on the '70s disaster epic The Towering Inferno. Offering a similar level of unnecessary melodrama to round out the action sequences, the whole experience feels like a lark, like a group of dedicated artists who felt the need to push the boundaries of CGI architecture to make their movie even more incredible. You know this isn't going to be your typical all star spectacle from the moment an elevator full of people are roasted like a collection of rotisserie chickens. That's right, a packed car full of future statistics gets stuck between flame-engulfed floors and before you know it, the metal is buckling, shoe soles are melting, and flesh is rendered crispy like a Texas pitmaster. It's, perhaps, the most disturbing scene in the movie, except for those moments when people on the ground witness desperate victims jumping to their deaths.
Along the way, director Kim Ji-hoon (Sector 7) hits all the same disaster movie beats. We get the doting dad, the bratty kid, the unrequited love, and goofy best friend, the aging couple, the arrogant bureaucrat, the criminal construction head, the clueless tech crew, the mythic fire captain, the plaintive wife, etc. etc. etc. The movie spends so much time making sure we know who's who, who we should care about and who we should hiss, and why their eventual death/rescue will matter to the movie's main narrative arcs that, by the time the pyrotechnics settle in, we've got all the handwringing bases covered. The, one by one, the floors become infernos and Kim must decide who actually makes it to the final credits and who's incinerated in his or her own version of Hell. For their part, the actors all excel at tugging at your cynicism. You know you shouldn't care, but then someone buys the big one and you feel slightly sad. Slightly.
Truth be told, the main selling point here is the special effects. Like a big budget Hollywood film, The Tower contains some excellent CG renderings of vertigo inducing situations, a lot of building code blarney (would a city really allow a walkway between the two structures so tenuously placed that high in the air? And that flimsy looking?) and the inevitable discovery of a water source in the middle of the metal sky. As the pace quickens and the body count rises, you wonder how this film can top itself. And then a major character dies and a cheap pre-credit image adds even more saccharine to an already cloyingly manipulative set-up. Sure, there are parts of this film that will get on your nerves (as said before, a little of Lee's daughter goes a long, long way) and the Asian acting community still believes in a bit of mugging now and then, but for the most part, The Tower is a lot of fun. It may not hit all the cheesy highs that made Irwin Allen a '70s icon, but it does his kind of star studded schlock proud.