One of the most eagerly anticipated movies premiering at the Fantasia International Film Festival is Lee Yong-ju’s Seobok. Starring Gong Yoo and Park Bo-gum, it questions the ethics of human cloning amidst gunfights and telekinetic powers. Along the way, the lead characters’ friendship challenges what it means to live life the way they want.
The film opens with Chief Ahn (Jo Woo-jin) assigning one last project to former secret agent Min Ki-hun (Gong Yoo). Ki-hun must protect and then lock away the first human clone, Seobok (Park Bo-gum). Eventually, Ki-hun, who is struggling with a brain tumor, learns more about his true role in the assignment. He was chosen to be part of a secret project: an experiment to cure cancer using Seobok’s stem cells.
While on the job, a group of mercenaries ambush and kidnap Seobok and Ki-hun. They plan to use Seobok’s data to create more clones. However, the two manage to escape when Seobok uses his telekinetic powers to attack them. Following the ambush, both return to a safe house. There, they learn Chief Ahn is trying to kill Seobok as well. Knowing his survival depends on Seobok’s, Ki-hun pursues one last option. He calls the director of the secret project to find a way to protect the clone. Through the rest of the film, Ki-hun and Seobok grow to learn more about death, forgiveness and moving on. However, Seobok’s curiosity makes him struggle to adapt to this new world, and his powers become more dangerous for everyone.
Seobok delves into many genres such as science fiction and action. However, it focuses more on the philosophical aspects of death and moral values through heartfelt moments between Ki-hun and Seobok. One scene involves Ki-hun and Seobok walking through a market. Seobok’s blank face of curiosity shows his desire to explore more of the world under his limited time. Ki-hun and Seobok’s conversations often dive into the meaning of life and the aftermath of death. Seobok’s eyes widen to find out what happens when someone dies or sleeps, as he has never slept before.
Ki-hun and Seobok’s connection and mutual dependency drive Ki-hun’s character growth. Ki-hun goes from caring more about surviving his cancer to caring more about protecting Seobok. Together, he and Seobok learn about the clone’s history and potential future. They explore whether human cloning is fundamental in a future where people care less about others’ lives. They realize even if human cloning can cure cancer, it brings greedy people who want to take advantage of it.
As for the action scenes, there is not enough that keeps the audience entertained. They are lacklustre, ending abruptly just before the moment of action intensifies. For example, there is a scene where Ki-hun and Seobok confront company men arriving to kill Seobok. Seobok dodges the bullets, protecting Ki-hun. Then Seobok attacks one of the men and their fight takes them to a hallway. But just as Seobok uses his telekinetic powers to stop the company man, the camera switches focus. The audience sees a blast causing an explosion that throws Ki-hun off his feet. The film illustrates the aftermath with building debris hanging from the ceiling and Seobok’s calmness.
Perhaps the only element that makes Seobok interesting is its ethical examination of human cloning. Its interrogations of death and immortality brush into futuristic storytelling elements. Of course, Gong and Park give interesting performances as their characters battle with stakes beyond their control. Seobok‘s last redeeming feature is its stunning cinematography. The final shot of Ki-hun at the beach, placing a pebble on Seobok’s mountain of rock, is breathtaking. But such allure can only do so much to attract moviegoers.
For more of Nuha’s writing please check out her piece on Horror and Disability.