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Film Review

SEOBOK (2021) Review

Neil reviews SEOBOK from the Fantasia Film Festival calling it “top-notch high concept storytelling” and a “technologically advance spy thriller.”

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Seobok

Seobok screens as part of the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. For ticket and further into check out the Fantasia website.

Synopsis

Min Ki-hun (Gong Yoo, TRAIN TO BUSAN) is a former secret service agent struggling with a brain tumor. Chief Ahn (Jo Woo-jin, COLLECTORS) asks him to return to duty for a mission of the utmost importance: protecting Seobok (Park Bo-gum, COIN LOCKER GIRL), the first human clone.

The people at the company that created Seobok tell him that the clone is immortal, with stem cells that could rid him of his cancer. However, side effects of the experiment have given this specimen fabulous powers, such as moving objects by thought. Naturally, a possible remedy for death itself hasn’t gone unnoticed by foreign mercenaries and other malevolent groups. Following an ambush during a transfer, Seobok finds himself in the company of Ki-hun for the first time, who proves to be extremely protective, as his survival depends on that of his protégé. However, the young prodigy struggles to adapt, and his powers become increasingly uncontrollable – and frightening.

Review

With Seobok writer and director Lee Yong-ju has crafted a blockbuster in every sense of the word. It’s a tense, action-packed experience which blurs the boundaries between spy thriller and science-fiction. It’s the kind of high concept storytelling which Hollywood often aims for. But it’s also the kind story that big studio committees often renege against.

At the centre of the action is Min Ki-hun (Gong Yoo) whose rapidly growing brain tumour has placed him close to death. With Train To Busan Yoo proved his capabilities as an action star. Here he’s able to shown a broader emotional range, quickly confirming his ability to inhabit a compelling character.

Much of Seobok plays like a road trip movie with Seobok (Park Bo-gum) at this side. Min Ki-hun and Seobok are two sides of the same coin. Each balances the other out perfectly amongst all of the action. Whilst Min Ki-hun is looking towards the end of his life, Seobok is only at the beginning of his.

The bond which forms between the two feels organic to the story and is beautifully executed by both actors. By the climax of the third act it’s clear that the two are more like brothers than me acquaintances. Making Min Ki-hun’s choices all the more heartbreaking a the film’s end.

This added dynamic of character is what elevates Seobok above other Korean action films. However, when it gets heavily distracted by human melodrama Seobok does tend to lose some of its momentum. Though the pacing never threatens to derail the film, it does take the viewer out of the story occasionally.

As for the action itself, Seobok is extremely well executed. Action sequences are exciting and enhanced by Seobok’s natural abilities. In addition, his abilities are stunningly rendered on screen. There are no flaws in the film’s VFX and the set design is equally impressive. For example, Seobok’s “room” on the ship is a wonderful mix of technology and practical set design. It looks stunning on screen and is easily able to compete with big Hollywood blockbusters.

Coming in at 1 hour 54 minutes, Seobok is a little overlong. Whilst it never drags there are moments when it could have been more concise. But as a film which will likely introduce many to the genre it’s a stunning entry point which deserves to reach the widest audience possible.

Verdict

Seobok is top-notch high concept storytelling, a technologically advanced spy thriller with none of the Hollywood shackles.


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