Since 2016, with the release of his third feature film Train to Busan, the director Yeon Sang-ho has enjoyed overseas fame for its rare ability to approach Western genres through a South Korean filter. His latest film Jung_Eboasting Netflix’s mighty global distribution, is a bullet-riddled picture that strives to blend family drama with encroaching AI apocalypse.
But unlike his heartwarming zombie film Train to Busan and his superhero film Psychokinesis, Jung_E is plagued by less than precise execution and often flat color palettes that make it Yeon’s weakest work to date. Despite the occasionally mesmerizing effects, compulsively funny performances, beautiful but rare action choreography, and lazy but effective drama that gives the film a modicum of emotional depth, Jung_E collapses under its own ambition.
We are in the future, the Earth has succumbed to climate change as we knew it would, and humanity has moved to the stars. But a 40-year civil war has encouraged a commercial lab to clone Yun Jung-yi (Kim Hyun-joo), a famous war heroine left in a vegetative state. Her adult daughter, Yun Seo-hyun (the late Kang Soo-yeon) leads the “Jung_E” project which seeks to harness Jung-yi’s brilliant tactical mind to create a new breed of artificial soldiers. But with the war over and the expensive project failing to hit benchmarks, Seo-hyun makes a desperate attempt to save the only thing keeping her mother alive, so to speak.
Jung_E is ostensibly a sci-fi film that focuses on the human brain, which it uses to explore themes such as identity, control, and an ephemeral sense of self. But when surrounded by video game action scenes, not all of the same quality, Jung_E can’t keep the audience’s attention on brain function.
The film, on the other hand, maintains some of the characteristics of its director’s past works, such as the family unit of Train to Busan, but Jung_E is not as incisive as Sang-ho’s previous works, nor as skillfully crafted. The sentimentality of mourning unfortunately does not fully merge within the sci-fi frame of the film.
Tragically, Jung_E is also the last film of Kang (died in May 2022 from brain hemorrhage).
In the most moving moments, Yeon wisely harnesses Kang’s ability to reveal pain and longing, shoving the camera into her face when the moment is right. But those moments are few and far between.
Although funny at times, especially in the futuristic corridor scenes reminiscent of an episode of Star Trek, Jung_E never reaches the potential it promises. Yeon’s latest film is not entirely a disappointment, perhaps thanks to the brain power and beating heart that made director Yeon Sang-ho’s other films so interesting and full of humanity.
And have you seen Jung_E? Did you like it? Tell me what you think through the comments below.
- It takes the style of Yeon Sang-ho’s best films
- It focuses on the human stakes versus the galactic battle
- The plot often gets stuck
- The action scenes are not all of the same quality
- Visual palette to review
The review of Jung_E, Kang Soo-yeon’s latest film, almost cruelly prescient