REVIEW: JUNG_E Creates a Large Sci-Fi World

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JUNG_E — But Why Tho (1)

Yeon Sang-ho has had a stellar few years. From The King of Pigs adult animated film to the iconic Train to Busan and, most recently, his foray into television with Netflix’s Hellbound, Yeon has explored a wide gambit of genres. Now, he’s back with Netflix for JUNG_E, a feature film set in a dystopian future where climate change has ravaged the world and a civil war between those in space and those on Earth has raged on for decades.

In JUNG_E, humans have escaped Earth, which has been devastated by drastic climate change. And to end the war taking place at the shelters, the brain of the legendary mercenary Yun Jung-yi (Kim Hyun-joo)is cloned by those trying to develop the ultimate A.I. combat warrior. The person in charge of her creation and proliferation? Her daughter, Yun Seo-hyun (Kang Soo-yeon). With the civil war pushing the need for advanced weapons, and Team Leader Yun beholden to Kronoid, the development company, the complex decision between grieving your mother and keeping her legacy alive is tantamount to the narrative.

With her mother in a vegetative state, Yun is focused on one thing, saving her. An amazing fighter, the titular JUNG_E combat AI fails simultaneously, forcing Yun to relive her mother’s injury and work against time to perfect the combat to keep the legacy alive. But when Kronoid abandons the research to launch another project, Seo-hyun learns of their plans and resolves to save JUNG_E.

JUNG_E has complexity. As Seo-hyun, Kang Soo-yeon is a force. She is stoic when she needs to be, holding her own against the push from the company’s wishes, but in her stone-like expression, you can see the grief churning. In a layered performance, and sadly the actor’s last performance after her tragic passing in 2022, actress Kang is a powerhouse. She holds the audience captive and allows us to explore humanity and a vital line to understanding the film’s core: the love between a mother and daughter. She is intelligent, unyielding, and manages to out game everyone around her through subtleties instead of eccentricities.

Opposite Kang is Ryu Kyung-soo, the director of Kronoid’s combat AI program, Sang-hoon. Brash and explosive, his uncontrolled emotions offer a balance to Seo-hyun’s client’s grief. He offers a performance that packs a punch where it needs to before, also bringing sadness to the surface too.

JUNG_E — But Why Tho (1)

Unfortunately, the performances, while strong, are made small by how large director Yeon builds his world. There are so many corners to turn and paths to explore that ultimately there are so many unanswered questions. Why did the war start? Why did it end? What is happening to the people who have sold their brains and whole identities to Kronoid? I want to see so much more than what this film gave me.

While this is a testament to Yeon’s ability to world-build, it also showcases a blindspot in only reigning the high concepts enough to capture emotion but not enough to keep the focus on his characters. While he was masterful at this in Train to Busan, his sequel to that film, Peninsula, showcased this same issue. That said, the groundwork has been set for sequels to this work that I would gladly welcome, given the vastness of the world shown here.

While director Yeon is clearly playing with expectations from the genre,  the choice to zoom in on one person, her grief, and her struggle in the larger capitalist dystopia feel incomplete. Instead of any large moves that take down the whole system, Seo-hyun is focused on saving her mother’s legacy and one issue. And as much as that feels small, maybe that’s the entire point of the film. To see the crushing capitalist system that aims to consume and reproduce a great woman and her memory and its impact on the only person who will care, her daughter.

JUNG_E has faults, but the world that Yeon Sang-ho has built and the performances from Kang Soo-yeon and Ryu Kyung-soo are deniably great. Ultimately, the intelligent handling of grief and fantastic action set pieces and choreography make JUNG_E a definite watch this weekend on Netflix.

JUNG_E is streaming now exclusively on Netflix.


JUNG_E
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

JUNG_E has faults, but the world that Yeon Sang-ho has built and the performances from Kang Soo-yeon and Ryu Kyung-soo are deniably great. Ultimately, the intelligent handling of grief and fantastic action set pieces and choreography make JUNG_E a definite watch this weekend on Netflix.

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