‘Train to Busan’ and ‘Peninsula’ helmer Yeon Sang-Ho returns with a slick big budget sci-fi flick that while showcasing some incredible action is a more dramatic affair than the marketing suggests. Climate change has devasted much of 22nd-century Earth forcing humans to inhabit large man-made shelters. Robotic technology has also advanced to incredible lengths, the tech now used to fight the inevitable civil war that has broken out between various factions due to the devastation of Earth. Seo-hyun (Kang Soo-Yeon) holed up in one such shelter leads the research team of the Jung_E experiment: a super soldier army programme made up of clones of a once gifted soldier, who just happened to be Seo-hyun’s mother. With the war potentially winding down and the need for clone soldiers less needed, the company Seo-hyun works for decide to use the brain/soul of Jung_E for less heroic but more profitable means which sets Seo-hyun on a path to save her mother’s soul and go to war with the company.
Opening with a scene of super-charged action and eye-popping CGI, we see Jung_E (Kim Hyun-Joo) battling multiple robot drones in some expertly staged action. Proceedings then slow down somewhat as focus switches to Seo-hyun and her work on the Jung_E programme. A sort of lost but brilliant soul in a tech-advanced world, Seo-hyun yearns for her deceased mother getting another chance “to be with her” by overseeing the clone project. Seo-hyun is a warm heart in an increasingly mechanised and corporate world where the idea of saving one’s mind and cloning themselves has been exploited and monetised to the nth degree. Director Yeon Sang-Ho, as well as delivering spectacle, ponders what a future might look like if our minds could be bought, sold and franchised at different payment levels with various consequences.
It’s an interesting concept (and a potentially scary future!) that the film spends quite a lot of time on which means the promised robot-tinged action takes a bit of a back seat. Yeon Sang-Ho still delivers some thrilling set pieces, much like he did in ‘Train to Busan’ and ‘Peninsula’, but they bookend the film rather than saturate it meaning those expecting a big action film may be disappointed. The action, as expected, is thrilling though occasionally marred by some CGI that doesn’t always hold up. However, the elevated train sequence towards the end of the film is a doozy and shows Yeon Sang-Ho still has an eye for superior set pieces.
Various sub-plots unfortunately fizzle out (Seo-hyun’s discovery that she herself has a terminal disease that will force her to consider what clone option to go with, for instance) which is a shame and may be due in part to the shorter runtime (just pushing past the 90-minute mark!) and as mentioned the CGI does buckle on occasion though the futuristic world is beautifully realised. Yeon Sang-Ho may always be in the shadow of his mighty zombie masterpiece ‘Train to Busan’ but ‘Jung_E’ is some solid grown-up sci-fi that while not always satisfying nevertheless gives one something to chew on in between all the ballistic action. It’s also set up nicely for a sequel which would be welcome.