‘Jung_E’ on Netflix: A beautifully disturbing sci-fi thriller

A dash of class warfare and parent-child relationships bring a unique twist to 2016’s Zombie Horror Train to Busan. Now South Korean director Yeon Sang-ho has his hand at a sci-fi thriller, setting Jung_E in a dystopian land orchestrated by AI bots. Similar to his zombie show, Yoon mainly focuses on the human heart amidst the action. A mother-daughter tale driven by sacrifice, unanswered questions, and the tragic price of survival.

This intrinsic preoccupation leads to an almost poetic—and moving—take to creating AI bots. As for any new ideas that spring to mind, Jung_E doesn’t have much to add to the AI ​​bot conversation. The rules and appearance of this dystopia are clearly influenced by Blade Runner. While entertaining, the fight scenes are rooted in generic-looking CGI and any morals about AI are superficial level. Keeping the story moving is the obvious priority.

It’s a forgivable oversimplification, because the mother-daughter bond is Jung_E’s greatest strength. In this desolate world of the 22nd century, scientists are trying to create the greatest AI combat robot to put an end to a decades-long civil war. Associated with the cloning of human consciousness, which allows humans to live past their bodies’ expiration date. But, as it stands, only the privileged can be loaded into bots with human rights. There is a free tier that allows the less affluent to keep their brain blueprints, but that comes at the cost of giving permission to become clones.

These scenarios are explored by two main characters. Kim Hyun-joo is Captain Yun Jung-yi, known as the “Pride of Korea,” an elite, famous soldier, and effortlessly likable hero. As a notable professional fighter, she drops some sarcastic lines, without diluting her innate sweet warmth.

Kang Soo Yeon, sadly in her last role before Her death last year, plays the other main focus. Seohyun is the leader of a team of researchers trying to find the key to creating an AI combat robot. Kang’s well-balanced performance, who becomes particularly reserved on the side of Ryu Kyung-soo’s Comedy Relief Lab director, has a magnetic pull. A tear in the corner of her eye hinted at a mysterious and painful past.

A soldier standing behind a pole and holding a gun

Kim Hyun-joo is a soldier in a miserable land.


Instead of branching out across the war-torn world, Jung_E’s action is embedded in an AI research lab. This is not necessarily a weak point. Twists and characters emerge in a closed setting, building tension until everything comes to an albeit slightly predictable climax. The question for everyone remains whether they are, unknowingly, Android. In an explicit — but not compelling — scene inspired by Blade Runner, a morality test is meant to put those questions to bed.

Refreshingly, director Yoon, who also wrote the screenplay, found a more benevolent angle to the robot soldiers premise. He’s not trying to untie the moral knots of artificial intelligence, leaving that to the likes of Ex Machina. The fraught and violent existential aspects are still touched upon, but the lens is narrow on the mother-daughter relationship. It lands on someone’s personal apology. Gift idea. Jung_E’s last impression is less than welcoming.

Jung_E doesn’t breathe new life into the dilemma of robot consciousness, but instead sets a heartbreaking human story within this battlefield. It’s that beautifully woven thread, woven into an entertaining thriller, that’s worth holding on to.

Jung_E hits Netflix this Friday.

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