Pyongyang Review
of Books: Pyongyang
2049

Plausible and merely coincidental Korean influences in Blade Runner 2049

Hey, iri wa ['come here' in Korean, direct speech]. - Cop to Rick Deckard in Blade Runner

The December 2016 release of the Blade Runner 2049 teaser gave us a long-awaited glimpse of the future Los Angeles’s future, set 30 years down the road from the events in the original film. This teaser included a brief shot of the Korean words for ‘good luck’ (행운) on the grand edifice of a neo-art deco building amid an desert wasteland beneath an orange sky. While much has been said about Japanese influence in the original, Colin Marshall at the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog (check it out!) speculated ‘[a] Seoul-Los Angeles hybrid would make the ideal backdrop for the new Blade Runner movie’. Given Los Angeles’s large Korea Town, a Seoul connection would make sense and Marshall cites Robert Koehler’s cyberpunk scenes of the city as evidence.

However, the recent release of the full-length trailer suggests that the Korea-connection may not be so straightforward and include influences from not only Seoul, LA’s Korea town, but also possibly Pyongyang. Marshall continues: ‘…as director Dennis Villeneuve tells it, Blade Runner 2049’s setting, whatever its cultural influences, will feel more post-apocalyptic, more blasted and elemental’. It may be that the Korean LA, and by extension Seoul, led the production team to Pyongyang with its futuristic architecture and grand monuments. Escapist Magazine had hoped the film takes us to a future North Korea which is unlikely. The film is set in California. Still film critics should rather consider a LA-Seoul-Pyongyang axis as an influence on the film.

For now, let us consider what we have seen so far and how it relates to Pyongyang, perhaps directly and in some cases most certainly by coincidence.

The opening of the original Blade Runner famously begins with the aerial approach to the Tyrell Corporation’s enormous headquarters. The trailer for Blade Runner 2049 promises us the same Mayan-inspired ziggurat, now shrouded in darkness. The trailer’s title image (above) features a more triangular pyramid set amid a dust-choked dystopia of a ruined LA cityscape. To the regular visitor to Pyongyang, this immediately brings to mind the city’s latter-day pyramid: the 105-story Ryugyong Hotel.

Christened the ‘Hotel of Doom’ in the strange, and rather shallow, lore of western visitors to North Korea, the Ryugyong Hotel has been under construction, on and off, since 1987. (The fantastic moniker doesn’t really feel applicable anymore given the structure’s glossy exterior and the title has always felt rather topical unless the speaker is referencing the works of Ismail Kadare or Andrei Platanov, which, I suspect, most are not). Nevertheless, post a photo of Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Hotel on Instagram and it will without fail propel your number of likes to great heights. As Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky once wrote of pyramids: ‘…it is precisely the pinnacle that attracts our attention’.

Seoul’s tallest building, the Lotte World Tower, and its the diatomaceous curves could also have a place in Villeneuve’s future LA. And, of course, it is difficult to base an argument simply based on the appearance of modernist pyramids. In the full-length trailer we see what appears to be a very direct potential reference linking the two Korean capitals, that is, a reference to the Monument to the Three Charters for National Reunification. This giant granite archway-monument on the outskirts of Pyongyang straddles the entrance to the eight-lane highway leading south to the city of Kaesong, and by extension, to Seoul.

The Three Charters Monument commemorates the June 15, 2000 meetings between the leaders of North and South Korea. Two identical women in Korean traditional dress represent the people of both Koreas upholding the charters. These statues seem to have inspired a pair of twin statues, which Ryan Gosling walks beneath in the 2049 trailer.

The ‘good luck’ building of the trailers is reminiscent of railway stations in both Seoul and Pyongyang, products of the Japanese colonial era modernism and Soviet-inspired post-Korean war utopian construction, respectively. The rounded arch entrance and positioning of the Korean words on the window resemble Pyongyang Station, while the circular clock façade over the entrance resembles Seoul.

And an interesting coincidence is the similarity of the Blade Runner 2049 structure’s curved concrete design to this idealized design of west Pyongyang’s Potongang Railway Station below.

Pyongyang has five modernist residential districts which could easily be part of the Blade Runner universe. Two, Tongil and Kwangbok Street, date back to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, respectively. The others are post-2010, itself an important year in the annals of science fiction. It would not seem odd to see a spinner fly by the modern Changjon, Mirae Future Street, and recently opened Ryomyong Street and their space-age architecture.

Now that Chef Kenji Fujimoto has opened a new Japanese ramen house in Pyongyang, the famous noodle bar scene from the original Blade Runner is now a real possibility:

'He say you Blade Runner.'

'Tell him I'm eating!'

Listen to the cop speak Korean at 00:16 (below) as part of the future LA's cityspeak, the multilingual mix developed by actor Edward James Olmos (aka Commander Adama!).

We are eagerly awaiting the October 6 premiere of Blade Runner 2049 and will be watching for any possible Korean influences as well as a definitive answer to that eternal question: Is Rick Deckard a replicant?

After seeing the film at least twice in the theatres, join us in Pyongyang for our Korean Architecture, Art, and Design Tour to learn more about the city's developing futurescapes. Interested in North Korean artist's own portrayal of the future? See Koryo Studio's Utopian Tours collection.

The Pyongyang Review of Books (PYRB) is a modest literary review of books from the DPRK and Korea related topics. Regular visitors and browsers of Pyongyang’s bookstores. Follow us on Instagram: pyongyangreviewofbooks.

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