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Yeon Sang-ho's new sci-fi film explores what it truly means to be human

Arron reviews Yeon Sang-ho's sci-fi film based in the 22nd century, covering issues such as AI, climate change and war.

By Arron Kennon, Second Year, English

JUNG_E, directed by Yeon Sang-ho, is a film that delves into the depths of the human condition, exploring the intricacies of what it means to be truly alive. The film is set in a distant future, nearing the close of the 22nd century, where Earth is uninhabitable and humanity has retreated to the stars. The action centres around a society divided into two factions, locked in an endless war.

Jung_e // Photo by Cho WonJin, courtesy of Netflix

The opening scene follows a mercenary named Yun Jung-yi battling through a horde of robot soldiers. As the scene starts to look increasingly like a video game, the movie cleverly anticipates this thought and pulls back to reveal that its heroine is occupying a virtual space. The real Jung-yi is in a coma following a major battle. Scientists working for a corporation are using AI-cloned versions of her in the battle, hoping one will survive and become the warrior needed to win the ongoing civil war.

Jung_e // Photo by Cho WonJin, courtesy of Netflix

JUNG_E is hardly just an action movie however, it tackles a multitude of hot-button topics such as artificial intelligence, climate change, and humanity's unbreakable habit of starting wars. It is a tapestry of world-building, contemplative drama, and plot twists that intentionally undermine both the characters and the audience's expectations.

The film takes place in and around lab facilities and only offers virtual glimpses of the war. The chief researcher on the AI project is Yun Seo-hyun, who is also Jung-yi's daughter. Her tight-lipped professionalism contrasts with the manic and occasionally goofy Sang-hoon, a team leader focused on money and pleasing his corporate bosses.

Jung_e // Photo by Cho WonJin, courtesy of Netflix

The acting in the film is often exceptional, particularly Kim Hyun-joo's portrayal of Jung-yi. She brings a sense of depth and complexity to the character, making her the most charismatic and captivating person on screen. It is unfortunate, however, that this is Kang Soo-youn's final performance. The actress, a star in Korea for several decades, passed away after completing the film.

Jung_e // Photo by Cho WonJin, courtesy of Netflix

It must be said, however, for all its hits, the film misses in its pacing. Action scenes, though often exceptional in themselves, are interspersed a seemingly random times, disorientating the viewer as if to function only to expand a film that admittedly struggles to justify its mere 99-minute runtime. The attempt at genre hybridity must be commended, but it struggles to sustain a synergy of its ultimately disparate elements throughout.

Despite its inconsistent pacing, JUNG_E succeeds in the important areas: exciting action scenes, moving drama, and profound existential issues about the relationships that keep us alive.

Featured Image: By Cho WonJin, courtesy of Netflix

Will you be giving this 22nd century sci-fi adventure a watch?