The director of the action-packed Korean zombie thriller “Train to Busan” spends Netflix’s money on effects for “Jung_E,” a talkative, pseudo-cerebral thriller about AI, the future of human consciousness and ways for-profit industries might exploit it.
It’s a thriller bookended with humans vs. robots shootouts, and stuffed with boring corporate intrigues in between.
Attempts at ethical discussions about where one’s brain data ends up once you cease being human play as cold as ice. There’s little human connection to any of it, making for a rare soulless misstep for action auteur Yeon Sang-ho.
A commando (Kim Hyun-joo of Netflix’s “Hellbound”) fights her way through a “Terminator” hellscape of ruins and killer robots. Climate change has moved millions off planet to “shelter” space stations as the moon and perhaps Mars are readied for mass colonization.
The colonies in space are already fighting, using robots to do the dirty work. Capt. Yun is the last survivor of her mercenary unit. Only it turns out this mercenary is an android copy of the real Captain Yun. And the firefight was just a simulation to see if the bugs have been worked out.
They haven’t. The woman running this “team” for the Kronoid Corp. is unflappable, perhaps because she (Kang Su-yeon) is the daughter of the real Capt. Yun, who is being kept “alive” via the corporations efforts to preserve her soul in data form.
Her preening, posturing hotheaded boss (Ryu Kyung-Soo) is feeling the pressure to make this work. The Chairman and his minions could pull the plug at any moment.
What’s a devoted daughter to do?
The effects are solid, if more video gamish than anything this filmmaker has given us before. The fact that much of the action is “simulation” lowers the stakes and thus our investment in the characters or the story.
The film’s emotional connections are sterile to a one, with several characters rendered into shrieking or giggling cartoons. This is partly due to the “Blade Rudder” “ethics” debate the film hints at and doesn’t really wrestle with. What is it that makes us human, and how might machines mimic human behavior and personality types?
In other words, some of these “humans” aren’t human, either.
As much as one appreciates the effort, it takes more than lip service to make such a debate relatable and something we care about — a woman destined to bear a child who will turn the tide of a future war, an android who evolves into someone so human we mourn the machine-made killer’s passing.
I got nothing like that out of “Jung-E.”
Rating: TV-MA, violence
Cast: Kim Hyun-joo, Ryu Kyung-Soo and Kang Su-yeon
Credits: Scripted and directed by Yeon Sang-ho. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:39