Although the epic screen adaptation of David Mitchell's novel "Cloud Atlas" may be dividing critics and audiences at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, there are still plenty of things to like about the film.
The amazing visuals make the era-hopping adventure from "Matrix" creators the Wachowskis and director Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") a real joy to behold, but the movie is not simply eye candy. "Cloud Atlas" also features some wonderful performances by the majority of its sprawling and ever-transforming cast. Prosthetic makeup changes Hollywood heavyweights Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, and Hugo Weaving into frequently unrecognizable characters.
But one actress in particular nearly steals the show from her high profile co-stars, and does so without a lick of makeup effects: South Korea's Doona Bae.
Unlike the other actors in "Cloud Atlas" who take on multiple characters in different time periods, Bae really only has one major role in the film: "fabricant" Sonmi-451. Sonmi is a genetically-engineered clone forced to work at a fast-food joint in a dystopian city of Neo Seoul. While most other fabricants are oblivious to the fact that they live their lives as slaves, Somni soon learns of her plight thanks to a rebel fighter (Jim Sturgess in some very unfortunate prosthetic makeup) who needs her help to free all fabricants and overthrow the totalitarian state.
Bae absolutely shines in the role, going from an innocent servant to a symbol of revolution over the course of the film. Sonmi's tale (one of six interconnected stories in the film) is easily the most overtly science fiction yarn in the whole film, an arena where the Wachowskis really excel. Viewers will likely be tapping their foot as the other stories in the film play out, waiting for another chance to see Sonmi and the dark future she inhabits. Bae's sections of the film are a definite highlight.
Bae may be a Hollywood newcomer ("Cloud Atlas" marks her first English-language role), but she has been acting for over a decade in Asia. The 32-year-old Seoul native has co-starred in some of the biggest movies to come out of South Korea in recent memory, including Chan-wook Park's revenge trilogy starter "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and the monster movie "The Host." The actress won international raves for her role as a sex doll that comes to life in 2009 Japanese film "Air Doll," a movie that can only be described as being like "Mannequin," only way more depressing. Both "The Host" and "Air Doll" screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, making Bae already very familiar to Hogtown festivalgoers.
TIFF is always a great showcase for international talent, and in true Toronto film fest tradition, "Cloud Atlas" is sure to get the South Korean actress noticed outside of her native country. If there is one positive thing to take away from the film, it's that Bae's turn as Sonmi-451 will undoubtedly lead to bigger and better things for the actress.