South Korean filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho, who got worldwide recognition for his 2016 film Train to Busan, is known for his sci-fi films. What makes his futuristic content relatable, however, are the emotions and family values that are embedded in the storylines. His latest film, Jung_E, follows the same template, and while he manages to strike the sentimentality chord successfully yet again, he seems to have traded fantasy for the emotional quotient.
Set in the 22nd century, the earth in Jung_E is no longer habitable and humans are forced to live in man-made shelters built-in space.
Much like on earth, shelters get divided into groups, resulting in a civil war between two forces––the Allied and the Adrian—in which the Allied Forces warrior Captain Yun Jung-yi (Kim Hyun-joo), after multiple victories, dies. Three decades later, her daughter and scientist Yun Seo-hyun (Kang Soo-yeon) finds her mother’s brain to be cloned to develop a combat AI.
Sang-ho juggles several themes with Jung_E: morality, freedom, capitalism, consumerism and dehumanisation. We learn that people on the verge of dying can pay to be treated better and that corporates can handle the expenses if the individual agrees to sacrifice their minds to be mined for information. Jung-yi’s family went with the latter, which ironically pays for Seo-Hyun’s education. What comes through brilliantly is Seo-Hyun’s pain of seeing her mother turned into a mere commodity.
As evocative as the story is, the execution of these fascinating ideas isn’t neat enough, leaving jarring holes in the story that cannot be overlooked. Perhaps, the limited run time of 99 minutes is to blame, but the film struggles to adequately explore the themes for an audience that has educated itself about the sci-fi genre through titles such as Wall-E, Blade Runner and Robocop. Ryu Kyung-soo’s portrayal of Kim Sang-Hoon, an AI that believes itself to be human and is heading the brain cloning experiment, also doesn’t work because of the over-the-top performance that renders the character unreal.
The well-choreographed action sequences and the emotional climax see Jung-Yi makes a run for her freedom. That is where the story shines. Jung_E falls short of Sang-ho’s earlier masterpieces––Seoul Station, Psychokinesis, Peninsula and The Cursed––but it is still an earnest attempt by the director to show what the future might look like.