“Jung_E,” an upcoming Netfilx sci-fi film, depicts a dystopian society through director Yeon Sang-ho’s iconic dark, inscrutable characters and futuristic setting.
Having told stories through zombies in “Train to Busan” (2016) and humongous supernatural monsters in “Hellbound” (2021), Yeon has chosen AI robots for his latest sci-fi project -- a rare genre in South Korea.
In this cyberpunk flick, Yeon said he wanted to portray AI robots in the most Korean way by titling the film “Jung_E,” a common Korean name.
“While shooting the ‘Hellbound’ episodes, it came to my mind to make a somewhat unfamiliar genre of film (like) sci-fi, filled with elements like machinery, factories and a dystopian mood, and what could be the most Korean title – Jung_E. At the same time, I wanted to ask, is humanity something that only belongs to humans?” Yeon told reporters during a media conference at Lotte Cinema in Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, Thursday.
He said the English title is written as “Jung_E,” not Jung-yi or Jeong-yi, hoping that global audiences on the Nexflix platform would correctly pronounce the protagonist’s name.
“Jung_E” is set on Earth in the year 2194. A researcher named Seo-hyun (Kang Soo-yeon) is working on a brain cloning experiment called Jung_E named after her late mother, Yun Jung-yi (Kim Hyun-joo). Jung-yi was a legendary soldier who went into a vegetative state after going into battle years ago, and now the Jung_E project is crucial to winning a civil war facing humanity.
Knowing that her mother went off to battle in order to help pay for Seo-hyun’s lung tumor operation, Seo-hyun feels guilty whenever she conducts a combat power test for her mother’s Jung_E clone at the research lab.
Jung_E’s last memory is Jung-yi’s determination to spare no efforts in fighting for her ill daughter.
Yeon is well-known for tweaking familiar genres and styles by portraying barrier-breaking issues in a distinctly Korean way.
The mother-daughter relationship portrayed in the 2100s brings the audience closer to the storyline, which may feel alien with its fighting scenes involving robots.
Later in the film, actor Kim even plays several action scenes in the body of the AI robot.
“It was not easy to act as an AI robot. I also got very scared because I had never done this kind of acting before. I had to act natural doing the unnatural movement of robots, which sounds a bit ironic,” Kim told reporters during the press conference.
The film sees Kim reunited with “Hellbound” actor Ryu Kyung-soo. The two have been cast once again for Yeon’s next project under the working title of “Seonsan.”
“For me, Jung_E had to be Kim Hyun-joo for various reasons, but one was that the action skills she gained in ‘Hellbound’ were too good. I have deep faith in the actors that I worked with in ‘Hellbound,’” said Yeon.
Ryu plays Sang-hoon, the research institute’s head. He is also tasked with the successful completion of the brain cloning experiment.
“The character I played this time in ‘Jung_E’ was the opposite of the priest I played in ‘Hellbound.’ Sang-hoon is a very mischievous, highly wired character with secrets. To get ready to play him, I often listened to Michael Jackson on the way to the set,” Ryu told reporters.
While talking about the late actor Kang, who was to make a return to the big screen after nine years with “Jung_E,” Kim shed tears while expressing appreciation for Kang's passion and care for her fellow actors, both on and off set. Kang passed away in May last year due to a sudden cardiac arrest. Yeon said that from the very beginning, “Jung_E” was a film centered on Kang.
“I suggested to Netflix that I wanted to make a film featuring Kang. I wanted to make a sci-fi movie but with a very personal storyline, unlike other large-scale sci-fi projects that offer entertainment elements. Then Kang came to my mind and I thought that she had to be Seo-hyun to make this story more appealing. So it had to be Kang from the planning stage,” said Yeon.
“Jung_E” will be released Friday on Netflix.