South Korea keeps putting itself ahead of every major film market in Asia. The South Korean film industry just knows how to create and pull off movies in almost every genre, and lately, they have been taking risks on genres that are not their main dish. South Korean cinema has proven to have mastered the thriller, drama, and romance genres, and now they are ready to take on action cinema. Specifically, science fiction action cinema, when done the right way, can be incredibly lucrative. Netflix brings Jung_E to the platform and puts it to the test.
Jung_E is a film written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho, famous for being the director of the perfect “Train to Busan.” The movie also stars Kim Hyun-Joo, Kang Soo-youn, Ryu Kyung-soo, and Park So-Yi. The film tells the story of Yoon Seo-youn, a robotics expert who is working for a famous mega-corporation in the future, where a terrible civil war between Earth and its space colonies has caused countless deaths for more than 40 years. Seo-youn is developing a new weapon that might help Earth win the war, and that weapon is none other than her own mother.
Yeon Sang-ho has proven to be a director that can hit the nail on the head when it comes to bringing feelings such as anger, love, sadness, and even hype to a project. When Train to Busan was released, it caught everyone by surprise because it was so good. The movie was seen around the world, and it was just a herald of what was coming for the South Korean film industry, which peaked with Parasite winning Best Picture at the Oscars. However, since Train to Busan, it seems that Sang-ho has been chasing the same quality that made that movie so special. Sadly, that search has been in vain.
Jung_E isn’t a bad film, but it is not good either. It places itself in a weird position between the decent and the mediocre, and it is hard to judge it no matter what. There are a lot of cool ideas, but almost none of them are used effectively or at all. The story seems to stumble at the beginning until it decides exactly what it wants to tell. But by that point, it is too late, and with the movie almost over, the decisions that the characters make don’t feel as impactful as the movie thinks they are.
There is a lot of background information and world-building being thrown around, but almost none of it matters. There are many threads that are just being left without any conclusion, and what the movie decides to follow as its main story is just not good enough. There are some emotional moments, especially towards the end, but it would have been great if the movie could have worked that story right from the beginning, instead of just meandering around the idea of doing it.
The first thing to notice, of course, is the level of visual effects being on display here. Sang-ho seems to be pushing the use of CGI more than any other South Korean director. Train to Busan had some very good visual effects, but it wasn’t very consistent, with the CGI and compositions looking very unfinished in some parts. Jung_E is definitely a step forward in the techniques used by this CGI company, and the result is a better-looking CGI that can withstand a closer look and that remains mostly consistent throughout the film.
So, the movie looks quite good. The visual effects are certainly the best that I have ever seen in a modern South Korean movie. However, the quality of the effects hasn’t reached the standard of a Hollywood movie. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the South Korean industry is on the right path. Thankfully, the movie also tries to add a bit of heart to the story. This might be disappointing for those who were expecting a movie full of action, but the movie is mostly a drama, and I think that is the best for it.
Of course, we cannot go away without talking about the performances. The late Kang Soon-youn is the lead of the film and brings all of her experience with her. She makes Yoon Seo-hyun the best character in the film, and some parallels between her character and what would happen to the actress some time after shooting the film are chilling. She left us all too soon, and the movie is dedicated to her memory. Meanwhile, Ryu Kyung-soo steals the show by being the villain of the piece, and he chews the scenery with every breath.
In the end, Jung_E comes across as an excellent showcase of how far the South Korean VFX industry has come. The film boasts some really solid VFX, and in combination with a story that manages to be emotional and heartfelt, it is successful at being watchable. However, the film meanders too much, and most of the very interesting ideas that are thrown in the air are never tackled in any shape or form. So, as the movie ends, you get the sensation that there was a lot of wasted potential here, and that is unfortunate.