JUNG_E (Jeongi) - Spoiler Free Movie Review
From the mastermind behind the horror sensation Train to Busan, comes a new feature that is extremely derivative of past post-apocalyptic robotic premises.
Original Title: 정이 (Jeongi)
Genre: Action / Drama / Science-Fiction
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Cast: Kang Soo-yeon, Kim Hyun-joo, Ryu Kyung-soo, Han Woo-yeol, Uhm Ji-won, Park So-yi & Lee Dong-hee.
Run Time: 98 min.
US Release: 20 January 2023 (Netflix)
UK Release: 20 January 2023 (Netflix)
South Korea Release: 20 January 2023 (Netflix)
German Release: 20 January 2023 (Netflix)
Yeon Sang-ho impressed me back in 2019 when I stumbled upon his zombie horror feature, Train to Busan! Not only did it include some terrifying, flesh-eating sequences, a claustrophobia-inducing setting, as well as kick-ass action, but it also had some heartfelt dramatic moments. The animated story Seoul Station, set right before the outbreak and available as a special on the blu-ray, was equally impressive. However, his follow-up Peninsula, went a different route, trying to deceive audience expectations. While I appreciated the attempt to create something new, it felt very Hollywood-formulaic.
Now, Sanh-ho returns with this Netflix production, centred around a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story. The question is, can the director return to his A-game?
On a barely habitable twenty-second-century Earth, the outcome of a civil war that broke out between habitable shelters orbiting the planet will depend on the process of brain cloning experiments of an elite soldier. The creation of an A.I. robotic army is key to winning the war.
While I appreciate the direction that the director/writer tried to go with his narrative, I need to confess that the end result is disappointing. Let us start with the positives! After a well-choreographed, action-packed intro, the tone of the screenplay takes a complete one-eighty, focusing rather on the ethical dilemmas of human brain cloning, the capitalism of using private information as currency, just like the moral issues of artificial intelligence development.
Sadly those aspects get buried under a generic script, as the complete movie feels derivative of other post-apocalyptic robot premises that have been handled better by other directors. Everything about the story feels unoriginal; it contains the philosophical elements of Spielger’s A.I. the cyberpunk-ness of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell, the humanitarian aspect of Blomkamp’s Elysium, the drama of Cameron’s Terminator, and the action of I, Robot, which stars Will Smith. The whole plot feels stitched together, with the melodramatic themes not suiting the dystopian subject.
I do recommend watching movies in their original language, with subtitles, as it is the best way to understand the emotions an actor wants to convey, even if not understanding the language. That said, a lot of the conversations between characters are extremely cheesy, bordering the line to cringe.
Kang Soo-yeon, who sadly passed away last year from a cerebral haemorrhage, portrays the lead Yun Seo-hyun, chief researcher for Kronoid Laboratory responsible for the JUNG_E lines of clones. Soo-yeon gives a very reserved performance. Her persona is presented to us seven minutes after the introductory scene, taking a further fifteen minutes to establish that she is the main persona. Yun Seo-hyun feels more like a side character, who is being dragged into the spotlight, yet feels uncomfortable there. That said, Soo-yeon did give a good depiction of an emotional struggle.
Kim Hyun-joo plays the titular character, an android with the replicated brain of Yun Seo-hyun’s mother; a former legendary hero of the Allied Forces, who was left comatose after a battle went awry. JUNG_E/ Yun Jung-yi is as one-dimensional a persona as they could come. The character is given no real depth as a person, though Hyun-joo does give an appealing performance.
Ryu Kyung-soo as Kim Sang-Hoon, the director of Kronoid Laboratory and the villain in the narrative, is the worst character! Kyung-soo gives an over-the-top portrayal, which quickly becomes annoying and distracting. I am not sure what the actor was going for but whatever it was, it does not work!
The biggest problem is that viewers don’t get to spend enough time with any of the characters, to build an attachment with them!
The cinematography plus camera work is the feature's strongest asset, yet nothing that hasn’t been seen already. Inspiration has been taken again from movies like Blade Runner or Terminator, as far as lighting and colour palettes go. That said, the few action segments are well captured and interestingly edited, feeling at times like a video game. The introductory battle especially was the best-choreographed action segment.
The effects are hit and miss, while the background scenery of a flooded world is beautifully rendered, especially during dawn, some of the robotic entities did not live up to their potential. The CGI, concerning combat machines or bodies of artificial intelligence, look at times fake, especially some of the movements reminded more of the stop-motion technique used in Verhoeven’s RoboCop of 1987.
Verdict: I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Netflix production that is directed and scripted, by the mind behind Train to Busan, though it was not this! I did appreciate the unconventional path this sci-fi flick took, delving more into the ethics plus morals concerning the development of A.I. technology paired with brain cloning, as well as criticising current marketing strategies employed by online industries. However, the execution was lacklustre, stitching together a story taken from previous premises that tackled the same subject matter. While the performances of the two leads are solid, audiences can't connect to their personas the way the characters are written. The acting of Ryu Kyung-soo is absolutely over-the-top goofy, pulling one out of the experience. The cinematography is the best part of this film, yet suffers from shoddy CGI. In the end, I can’t give JUNG_E more than a 4.5 out of 10.
Have you seen this new Netflix release? What do you think? Do you agree with my review? Leave a comment below & thank you as always for reading!