From the beginning, the new Netflix movie of Train to Busan Y Peninsula Writer-director Yeon Sang-ho brings other sci-fi movies to mind, as many genre movies do. For American audiences, at least, the opening sequences and other moments of JUNG_E will remember movies like Alita: Battle Angel, Elysiumand other photographs by Neill Blomkamp, ​​along with the phantom menaceLater Terminator sequels like Salvationand Alex Proyas’ version of I robot.

Not that these seeming homages represent an astonishingly curated and uniformly great set of sci-fi classics. little wing it’s great Y Ghost menace is underestimatedweather Terminator Salvation is curiously ill-conceived at best. Taken together, these movies may not even be what really inspired Yeon – he’s from South Korea and started his career in animation, so he may have a whole different set of influences in mind. But modern sci-fi movies are very quick to get from the same sources: Bounty hunterthe original Star WarsY Alien — that any movie that even suggests a different lineage draws attention.

JUNG_E It’s also engaging because it opens with a cool action sequence, as mercenary Yun Jung-yi (Kim Hyun-joo) fights her way through a group of robot soldiers in a bluish trashy landscape. As the scene begins to look more and more like a video game, the film seems to anticipate this thought and backtracks to show that his heroine is occupying a virtual space. The real Jung-yi is in a coma after a big battle. Now, scientists working for a large corporation are putting AI cloned versions of her into that very battle, hoping that some version will figure out how to survive and become the great warrior needed to win the ongoing civil war.

There’s a lot of history to convey, right from the start: the film is set at the end of the 22nd century. Earth is uninhabitable, so humanity has moved into space, where it has splintered into two factions engaged in a seemingly endless armed conflict. Set primarily in and around the lab facility, the film shows only virtual glimpses of the war. The lead researcher for the AI ​​project is Yun Seo-hyun (Kang Soo-youn), whose tight-lipped professionalism believes in the fact that she is also Jung-yi’s daughter. Her taciturnity is in stark contrast to the manic, sometimes ditzy, Sang-hoon (Ryu Kyung-soo), a team leader who is more focused on money, pleasing his corporate bosses and, as he puts it, “show”.

JUNG_E It opens with that exciting battle scene and closes with a bigger and better action sequence, with slightly cartoonish but effective (and when necessary, suitably heavy) visual effects. It’s not exactly an action movie though. In the long period between instances of mayhem, it goes through a great deal of world-building, contemplative drama, and a few plot twists that intentionally undermine both the characters’ and audience’s expectations of where the story might logically go.

Knowing the film’s strange structure beforehand might spoil some sense of discovery in an admirably unpredictable movie. On the other hand, less patient viewers can be forgiven for assuming, halfway through, that Yeon strayed too far and lost her momentum. Sometimes it’s frustrating when the story drifts away from Jung-yi; Whether in human form in flashbacks or robot form in the present, she is the most charismatic character in the film, while her adult daughter Seo-hyun is, by design, less immediately expressive. Kang takes his time to bring out the emotion in Seo-hyun.

A stern-looking woman in a pale linen jacket and futuristic nameplate stands in front of a series of computer screens in Jung_E

Photo: Well Go USA

Unfortunately, this is Kang’s unexpected farewell performance. The actress, a star in Korea for several decades, died after finishing the movie. That sense of loss is eerily appropriate to the material, which considers how or when the imitation of the human brain constitutes its own way of life, and what that kind of superficial extension of life might mean for more traditional forms of consciousness. Although it has satirical moments, JUNG_E’pangs of sadness grow within the film as it progresses.

When it returns to a more spectacular climax, the film feels like a genuine hybrid, rather than a case of tone whiplash. When the movie shows a swarm of robots with generically human faces, they don’t just look like robot designs from 2004 I robot; it feels like Yeon has made a stranger and more personal companion for that compromised film among others. JUNG_E it has a lot of spare parts and occasionally weird green screen effects. But both the robots and the humans he assembles move with unexpected grace.

JUNG_E is streaming on Netflix now.

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