JUNG_E review: Sci-fi, AI, and a lot of heart

JUNG_E is a Korean sci-fi action flick set on a desolate Earth in the year 2194. It follows the company Kronoid as it attempts to build the ultimate combat AI by cloning the brain of a comatose legendary mercenary. It is now streaming on Netflix.

Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers

Story

JUNG_E starts with onscreen text explaining that in the near future, sea levels rise due to rapid climate change, making the Earth almost inhabitable. 

Humanity builds shelters between the orbital planes of our planet and the moon and spends decades migrating into them. Eventually, shelters 8,12, and 13 declare themselves the Adrian Republic and attack Earth and the other shelters. 

This resulted in a civil war between the Adrian Republic and the Allied Forces that is still ongoing and has lasted over 40 years. Meanwhile, humans left on Earth work in big corporations producing ammunition to aid the war. 

In the year 2194, a company named Kronoid is determined to create the perfect combat AI by cloning the brain of a famous yet now comatose mercenary, Captain Yun Jung-yi. It is explained that 35 years ago, she was tasked with blowing up a fuel rod in Adrian’s Shelter B-25 but was severely injured.

With permission from her family, Kronoid spent a lot of money to keep her alive and replicated her brain, converting her neural cortex into data. They called this program, JUNG_E.

The project is led by Jung-yi’s daughter Yun Seo-hyun, the team leader. Furthermore, it is overseen by the eccentric Director Kim Sang-hoon. Eventually, Seo-hyun realizes that Kronoid is no longer interested in combat AI as the war is coming to a close.

Unable to see her mother’s conscience being used for household chores and in the sex market, she decides to go against the rules to give Captain Jung-yi a fresh start.

Performances

JUNG_E is mostly a three-character story as its main focus is on Jung-yi, Seo-hyun, and Sang-hoon. The three characters are portrayed by Kim Hyun-joo, Kang Soo-yeon, and Ryu Kyung-soo respectively.

The late and great Kang Soo-yeon is stellar as the troubled daughter. Her silent yet powerful performance is full of layers and showcases her character’s guilt and need for closure. Throughout the film, she struggles to pick between her duty and her love for her mother.

It is evident that it isn’t easy for her to witness her mom perish in simulations daily, but she still goes through with it for the greater good. However, when she realizes that Kronoid won’t do justice to Jung-yi’s legacy as a warrior, she decides to pull the plug on the project.

Ryu Kyung-soo is outstanding as the outrageous and impatient Director who turns out to be a robot. His character arc is interesting as he has trouble keeping a handle on his emotions and doesn’t treat bots with respect. It is satisfying to see him realize his true nature and unleash his frustration.

Lastly, Kim Hyun-joo as Captain Jung-yi is fierce and lethal. She is mostly present in action sequences and as a bot but has moments of acting brilliance.

The scene where a bot of her likeness converses with her adult daughter is gut-wrenching and provides emotional closure to both characters in the process. Thanks to an extremely powerful performance by both actors.

Positives

the film is equally heartfelt as it is full of stylistic action. JUNG_E hits the nail on the head in telling an emotional story in a sci-fi world that uses AI and robotics as a medium. It touches on the very important topic of brain replication and cloning in the future, and its morally conflicting consequences.

The world is rich, the history is interesting, and the visuals are breathtaking. There are a few moments where you can probably tell that the CGI is a little off, but overall, there is little to complain about in the VFX department.

Coming back to the action, it is slick, fast, and well-shot. The combat sequences are mostly saved for the third act of the film and provide just enough adrenalin to keep you hooked.

JUNG_E‘s pacing is also favorable. The film is easy to get through and has a runtime of only 99 minutes. Fortunately, it does justice to its plot threads in such a minimal amount of time and doesn’t feel rushed. Kudos to director Yeon Sang-ho for that.

Negatives

Predictability is what JUNG_E suffers from the most. The plot is rich, but you can tell what’s coming from miles away. The film is satisfying to watch and has heartfelt moments, but won’t leave you speechless in the end.

Furthermore, there are some parts of the narrative that aren’t explained clearly. For eg., the unexplained activation of the yellow part of the brain is a confusing plot point. Its true nature is hinted at in the conversation between Jung-yi and Seo-hyun but is easy to miss.

To nitpick further, Sang-hoon’s corny jokes are a major distraction and do not land whatsoever. They are probably used to mislead viewers and mask his unhinged nature but feel unnecessary.

Verdict

JUNG_E is no Ex Machina when it comes to sci-fi films discussing a moral agenda but still holds its ground. It is stylistic, action-packed, and has just the right amount of emotional beats to hook you in. However, pay close attention to the plot, or you may feel lost.

JUNG_E
JUNG_E review: Sci-fi, AI, and a lot of heart 1

Director: Yeon Sang-ho

Date Created: 2023-01-21 12:40

Editor's Rating:
3.5

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