After a long wait, Seobok had its grand opening in the cinema. It’s no surprise that it topped the box office on the first day of its release, being a Sci-Fi film made with a massive budget of 16 billion won. The famous director, talented actors, and the fantastic setting were enough to attract a large audience. However, the glory did not last long.
The movie Seobok revolves around a former intelligence agent Ki Heon living a socially isolated life due to a past traumatic incident. As the film begins, he gets a tempting job offer that he couldn’t refuse. That is to say, he takes on a mission of safely transporting Seobok, a subject created by stem cell technology and genetic mutation. However, they come under an unexpected attack from the start. Ki Heon and Seobok, fortunately, manage to escape and begin their journey.
In the movie, the protagonist’s name is Seobok. It is the name of the envoy who Qin Shi Huang had sent searching for the herb of eternal youth. The film describes Seobok as the representation of humanity’s desire to overcome mortality. Seobok, as a new species created by genetic modification, is the key to cure every disease by using its bone marrow.
The plot structure is like many science fiction movies from Hollywood we have seen before. It’s difficult to be excited in the platitude characters of a naive clone and its bodyguard-like agent. Plus, various films have already covered the toxic greed from a chairman that expresses the desire to monopolize the immortal technologies and the government’s obsession with hiding the innovation.
Nevertheless, there were some refreshing and exciting aspects in the movie. For instance, Seobok’s house, which the art director Lee Ha Joon has created, was visually stunning to watch. It is a beautiful dome-like architecture with a floor height of 9 meters. Not to mention that the Academy Award for Art had nominated the work, proving its brilliance with its stunning beauty. The space is full of birds, trees, and flowers. It almost creates a beautiful contrast between nature and the artificial by presenting clone Seobok with the virtual beach, dividing the boundaries between the genuine and the imitation. However, the scene with the virtual sea in Seobok’s house is somewhat similar to the hologram of Muyoga in the Korean SF movie Natural City in 2003. Still, it embodies a beautiful and realistic ocean, adding a visually pleasing factor to the piece.
Actor Kim Jae Gun, who plays the chairman, brings a whole new character to the film because he plays a villain character that we don’t get to see often. Rather than a typical villain cliché, Director Lee Yong Joo cast actor Kim Jae Gun as Chairman to portray a rather outspoken and friendly grandfather-like figure to reveal the human desire for eternal life. In the movie, chairman Kim is in bright pastel outfits with a gracious smile on his face, but behind his grin, he is a selfish individual with a boundless desire toward immortal life.
Lastly, the decision to cast Park Bo Gum as Seobok was what sold on the character. At first glance, it seems like the movie relies too much on the actor’s persona. However, thanks to Park Bo Gum’s pureness, the viewers slowly buy into the character of the clone, Seobok. For example, putting his shoe strap on and off and eating three cups of cup noodles in a row was the perfect scene to convince that he has a child-like mentality who had never experienced the outside world. In addition, the computer graphic also played its part. The special effects of his mysterious supernatural powers on the beach were surprisingly stunning. Also, it was stimulating to see the change in how we see the character of Seobok. At first, he seemed like someone Ki Heon should protect. However, we get to change our minds entirely after a few scenes.
However, there is a fundamental reason it lost the top spot in the box office despite these significant advantages. The film seeks to explore the meaning of life, death, and existence through the two main characters—but struggles to process such big philosophical themes. Throughout the movie, Seobok throws out ontological questions to Ki Heon: “What’s it like to die?”, “Do you enjoy living your life?” and “Tell me, is your life worth saving?” He even states that “Everyone dies in the end anyway.” Indeed, it is thought-provoking. Still, these ideas could have been fleshed out more through the videography rather than repeatedly relying upon the character’s dialogue.
The movie is led by the two male characters in their roles of a guardian and his ward. It was crucial for the movie to develop a genuine friendship between these two characters throughout the film. Unfortunately, the movie barely achieved the process of building up such a relationship. In particular, Ki Heon, played by Gong Yoo, was difficult to connect with. During the first half of the film, he constantly takes offense to Seobok. Further, the narrative of his tragic background wasn’t explored enough to capture the hearts of the audience. As a result, his motive to stand by Seobok’s side and risk his life seemed difficult to believe.
Despite high expectations, the film Seobok leaves you thinking of the many ways the film could have been improved. It had a clear message to deliver to the audience. However, it lacked the overall depth to convey what certainly is an interesting subject matter. The film, unfortunately, fails to go beyond prior films that explored the subject of cloning. Still, it is a beautiful film with solid performances from the two main actors. And personally, it was wonderful to witness Korea’s constantly developing brilliant special effects technology.
Verdict: If you are a fan of either of the main actors Park Bo Gum or Gong Yoo, it’s worth a watch. (5/10)
Editor Eungee Joh: It is a great joy to watch well-polished films and introduce them to the global audience. We will provide you with the latest quality Korean movies and series to keep you updated.