A touch of class conflict and a tragic parent-child relationship give 2016’s zombie thriller Train to Busan a distinctive spin. Now, South Korean filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho takes Jung E to a bleak world governed by AI machines in a sci-fi thriller. Yeon, like its zombie offering, concentrates on the human heart in the middle of the action. The sacrifice, unresolved questions, and heartbreaking cost of survival drive this mother-daughter narrative.
This central goal inspires an almost lyrical – and moving – approach to the development of AI robots. Jung E doesn’t have anything to offer to the discourse regarding AI robots in terms of mind-blowing new ideas. Blade Runner has clearly inspired the rules and appearance of this dystopia. While the action scenes are enjoyable, they are based on generic-looking CGI, and any ethics around artificial intelligence are shallow. The obvious objective is to keep the plot continuing.
This is a forgivable simplification, because Jung E’s greatest strength is her mother-daughter connection. Scientists are aiming to construct the finest AI battle robot to end decades of civil strife in this dreary 22nd-century society. This is linked to the cloning of human consciousness, which permits humans to live past the expiry date of their bodies. However, as things stand, only the affluent may be uploaded into human-like robots. There is a free tier that allows the less wealthy to save their brain blueprints, but this comes at the expense of becoming a clone.
Two major characters investigate these issues. Captain Yun Jung-yi, regarded as “the pride of Korea,” is played by Kim Hyun-joo. He is an exceptional, well-known soldier and an endearing hero. She’s a top-tier professional boxer who can deliver a few snarky words without losing her natural friendliness.
Kang Soo-yeon, in her final performance before her death last year, plays the second key character. Seohyun leads a research team that is looking for the secret to the construction of an AI fighting robot. Kang’s composed manner, which becomes more restrained when confronted with Ryu Kyung-comic soo’s relief lab head, has a captivating appeal. A tear in the corner of her eye suggests a strange, traumatic history.
Kim Hyun-joo is a soldier in a post-apocalyptic Earth.
Jung E’s activities is restricted to the AI research lab rather than the war-torn planet. That is not always a flaw. The plot twists and character revelations unfold in close quarters, ratcheting up the suspense until it all culminates in an admittedly little predictable conclusion. The issue hovers over all of them: are they androids without realizing it? An ethics exam apparently answers such problems in a clear – but not so convincing – Blade Runner-inspired scenario.
Director Yeon, who also penned the screenplay, finds a more sympathetic viewpoint on the robotic army notion, which is refreshing. He doesn’t try to untangle the ethical tangles of artificial intelligence, leaving it to Ex Machina and others. The tense, aggressive, and existential aspects remain, but the focus is restricted on the mother-daughter relationship. It lands on an individual’s personal apologies. The concept of a gift. Thankfully, Jung E’s overall impression is less ominous.
Jung E does not resurrect the artificial mind conundrum, but instead places a heartbreakingly human narrative on this well-worn battleground. That wonderfully braided thread, turned into an exciting action thriller, is worth clinging to.
Jung E will be available on Netflix on Friday.
Marvel, Netflix, DC, and other studios will release new films in 2023.