'Seobok' review: A fun thriller of science, gunfights and discussions on death

This guy takes quarantine protocol seriously. Photos: GSC Movies

Director: Lee Yong-ju
Cast: Gong Yoo, Park Bo-gum, Cho Woo-jin

When has making artificial life ever been a good idea? You'd think scientists would have learnt this lesson by now.

Ever since the novel Frankenstein was written in 1818, we’ve had hundreds of stories about the dangers of playing God. Creating our own humans (not in the usual way at least!) always results in disaster.

The scientists in South Korean blockbuster Seobok, unfortunately, make this very mistake.

Then again, perhaps they can be forgiven. For their creation has the angelic doe-eyed face of actor Park Bo-gum. Let's be honest, if you could make an artificial human with those good looks, you’d be crazy not to!

Park Bo-gum should make waves for his performance as the mysterious Seobok.Park Bo-gum should make waves for his performance as the mysterious Seobok.

Seobok is an odd hybrid of a movie. Half of it is character drama and philosophical musings about mortality. The other half is high-octane action with gunfights and psychic powers.

It is surprising, but somehow, these two halves blend quite well, resulting in a rather entertaining film.

This is one of the most anticipated Korean films of the year: mostly because it combines the talents of two of Korea’s biggest stars, Gong Yoo and Park. Originally supposed to be released last year, the coronavirus meant it had to be pushed to now.

So, what’s it about? Seobok is the tale of Min Ki-hun (Gong Yoo) a former intelligence agent with a dark past.

He suffers from a strange disorder which causes him to occasionally black out, mostly at times most convenient for the plot. Chief Ahn (Cho Woo-jin), his cunning agency head, recommends that he be part of a revolutionary experiment that might cure him.

This experiment involves Seobok (Park), brought to life through stem cell cloning and genetic engineering. Seobok is a gentle, kind soul who is fascinated about the world, and about death.

Seobok’s bone marrow contains special cells that could unlock the secret of immortality. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people are interested in him, mostly for selfish reasons.

After a surprise ambush by some military forces, Min and Seobok find themselves on the run together. You don’t have to be a screenwriting genius to guess where the story goes from here.

In some ways, it feels like a high-tech thriller version of the Jodi Picoult novel My Sister’s Keeper. But familiar isn’t always bad, as long as it is executed well. And Seobok pulls off the "clone created for scientific purposes" storyline very well indeed.

The action scenes are entertaining. The film opens with quite a bang, and there is a terrific moment when a vehicle is driven through a brick wall.

The plot builds up to a very satisfying climax, which unfortunately drags on for a little too long. But watching bad guys get their comeuppance is always fun.

There are some nice little moments of levity, and there are some lovely scenes exploring character backstory that will definitely bring on the feels.

All the philosophical musings on death can sometimes feel overwrought, but they do add a nice layer to the story.

The film asks, is immortality really as good as humans think it to be? Would removing the fear of death cause evil to thrive? Is death truly a thing to be feared?

'Which way to the closest sauna please?''Which way to the closest sauna please?'

Gong Yoo excels as troubled protagonist Min, and a scene exploring his back story is one of the most memorable parts of the film.

Park also does a good job as the mysterious Seobok, who sometimes feels like a K-pop version of the character Eleven from Stranger Things. Their bond is the crux of the film, and they play off each other well.

You genuinely do get invested in their relationship by the end. The supporting cast generally do OK, but can feel a bit one-note, especially the villains.

But apart from that, there’s plenty to enjoy in this film, particularly the performances of the two leads. And one scene will probably make you crave instant noodles.

A fun little thriller that revives old tropes and manages to still breathe life into them.

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Get a dose of science and suspense with 'Seobok'

Gong Yoo , Seobok , Park Bo-gum


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