Seobok: Project Clone


Ki Heon REALLY takes exception to being asked to wear a mask.

(2021) Science Fiction (Well Go USA) Park Bo-Gum, Gong Yoo, Jang Young-Nam, Woo-jin Jo, Byeong-eun Park, Maurice Turner Jr., Kwang-hoon Na, Mi-nam Jung, Eon-jeong Lee, Yang Hee-Woo, Andreas Fronk, Daniel Joey Albright, Han-ji Hyun, Leraldo Anzaldua, Edward Hong, Rebecca Jensen Uesugi, Shogo Miyakita, Erin Nicole Lundquist. Directed by Lee Yong-ju

 

=As our medical technology improves, we begin to approach areas of moral dilemmas that we might never have envisioned even a few years ago. Research on stem cells and human cloning promise breakthroughs in the not-so-distant future, but what will be the cost for developing these lines of science and medicine?

Ki Heon (Yoo) is a former secret service agent for South Korea who has been afflicted with a terminal brain tumor, hence the “former.” He is beset by guilt regarding some shady deeds in his past (which are never fully explored). And yet, his old boss Chief Ahn (Jo) calls to give him one last mission; to escort valuable research from a human cloning experiment to a safer place following the assassination of the American scientist who was involved in it.

Needing to feel useful again, Ki agrees and is surprised to discover that the research he’s escorting is actually a young man named Seobok (Bo-Gum) who is a successful, genetically engineered clone, but there’s more to him than meets the eye; his body manufactures stem cells that can cure any disease, which could render the human race virtually immortal. In addition, Seobok has developed astounding powers of telekinesis, as well as the ability to generate force waves from his body.

They don’t get very far before they are attacked by a group of mercenaries, working for a group that wants control of the clone for themselves. The two fight off the killers, and go on the run, trying to avoid various would-be kidnappers and killers while slowly beginning to develop a grudging bond. For Seobok who has lived his entire life in a lab, the road trip is nothing short of miraculous, whereas Ki realizes that the young man he is transporting holds the key to his own personal survival – assuming they don’t get shot to pieces first.

The filmmakers spend a great deal of time focusing on the moral dilemmas of this kind of scientific research, and there are some truly thought-provoking points brought up. There is an intelligence here that is sometimes hard to find in sci-fi films, especially those that have actions sequences, which this one does, although not so many as you might think. However, when there is action, it is done competently well. The special effects are also pretty nifty.

Yoo, one of Korea’s biggest stars, is best-known to American audiences for his work in Train to Busan. He does some stellar work here, giving Ki layers upon layers; when we first meet him, Ki is wallowing in self-pity and something of a jerk. As we get to know him better through Seobok, we begin to see the pain that has caused him to put up those walls, and understand him a little better as a man. It’s not Oscar-level work, but considering this is essentially meant to be a genre film, it is surprisingly strong.

As I mentioned earlier, there aren’t a lot of action sequences here and for the most part, the movie goes pretty slowly, focusing on the ethical questions. For cerebral science fiction fans, that might well be candy, but for those looking for a space opera-like hoot, they will find it to be a Sour Patch Kid of a film. For what it is, however, it is better than we have any right to expect and for those who like their science fiction to be truly speculative, this is one worth seeking out.

Just a quick note; the film is available both in dubbed and subtitled versions. Not every streaming service carries it in both formats, so be sure you know what you’re getting when you order. The DVD/Blu-Ray edition does contain both versions, so if you still go the physical media route, that might be your best bet.

REASONS TO SEE: Surprisingly thoughtful for a genre film. Strong performances throughout, particularly by Yoo.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little slow-paced and heavy on the exposition.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The film was originally set to be an end-of-the-year tentpole release in 2020 for its Korean distributor, but the pandemic delayed release until April 2021, when it debuted simultaneously in theaters and on the Korean streaming service TVING.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Google Plus, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/3/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Never Let Me Go
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Slut in a Good Way

Chimera Strain


Shades of sci-fi.

(2018) Science Fiction (Vertical) Henry Ian Cusick, Kathleen Quinlan, Erika Ervin, Jenna Harrison, Karishma Ahluwalia, Jennifer Giulameti, Raviv Haeems, Kaavya Jayarm, Lawrence Sampson. Directed by Maurice Haeems

 

There exists a jellyfish (Turritopsis) in nature that is virtually immortal. Poor scientist Quint (Cusick) is desperately trying to harvest the secret of the creature’s immortality in order to save his wife (Ahluwalia) and children from dying of a rare genetic disorder in a hard science sci-fi film (which went under the title Chimera during its initial festival run) from first-time writer-director Haeems.

He allies himself with Masterson (Quinlan), a billionaire who wants to save her own dying husband and is willing to see that Quint finishes his research, despite the fact that some of the research he needs – into stem cells – is forbidden by law. As Quint becomes more desperate, he begins to descend into madness, having long conversations with his comatose wife while his patient colleague Charlie (Harrison) looks on. Can Quint save his family and find the secret to immortality? And what price will he pay to find it? How far is he willing to go to save his wife and kids?

This is the kind of movie that wants to be a thinking person’s sci-fi film, but forgets that you need to have a viable story. Characters act against type and engage in tangential conversations that are ultimately meaningless to the plot other than to deliver philosophical broadsides to the audience. The movie looks nifty enough with a kind of world-going-to-the-dogs look to it, and lord knows the actors are doing their very best but they often look puzzled, as if they can’t figure out the dialogue they’ve been given to speak.

There are a lot of really deep concepts here (some cribbed from sources as diverse as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Modern Science), but sadly Haeems only gives them lip service rather than a deep dive. With a more experienced writer this might have been a really compelling science fiction opus.

REASONS TO SEE: Ideal for those who love esoteric science fiction.
REASONS TO AVOID: Too many platitudes, not enough character development.
FAMILY VALUES: There is nudity and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The names of the characters were all taken from the classic Henry James story Turn of the Screw
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hoopla, Redbox, Roku Channel, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/10/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Replicas
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Upheaval: The Journey of Menachem Begin