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‘JUNG_E’ questions class and personhood

A few years ago, I was absolutely blown away by Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite.” And in 2021, the whole world was taken by storm with the Netflix show “Squid Games,” also from Korea. Since then, I have made an effort to seek out more films and television programming coming out of Korea. Right now “JUNG_E” from writer/director Sang-ho Yeon is streaming on Netflix.

In the 22nd century, Earth has become uninhabitable, so humans have left Earth to man made shelters. The more things change, the more they stay the same, and a civil war breaks out, lasting decades. The closest it has ever come to ending was when mercenary Yun Jung-yi (Kim Hyun-joo) nearly overcame the enemy robots, but instead lost and went into a coma. Her brain was mapped, and now a lab owns that map and creates a legion of robots called JUNG_E to try to figure out how to win the war.

Working on the project is Jung-yi’s daughter, Yun Seo-hyun (Kang Soo-youn), a woman who bears the weight of knowing that her mother was a mercenary to pay for her cancer treatment as a child. As she grapples with this knowledge and her overbearing boss Sang-hoon (Ryu Kyung-soo), she finds that there is far more to be concerned about.

This is a fascinating film. Like many pieces of Korean art, this film has a lot to say about class disparity, this time in how your brain can be used after you die based on your financial stability. There is an interesting question about personhood if we’re just talking about brain mapping, but this went a little deeper, allowing wealth to play into that as well.

The action sequences are very compelling. Admittedly, the CGI can be a bit hit or miss during some scenes, but for the most part, they look pretty good. And while they are intense when they happen, there is enough additional story to carry through so that the action isn’t the only high point of the film.

The performances are really well-done. I prefer to watch movies with subtitles so I can hear the performances given by the actors on screen, and they are all excellent, particularly Soo-young’s performance. She brings a sense of gravitas and empathy to what is essentially an action film, reminding us that the action is personal. I did listen to a bit of the English dubbed version, and the voiceover work is
well done, if that is your preference.

This film is another reminder that even when there can be some significantly different cultural expectations between Korea and America, there are plenty of places where our lives overlap. This movie focuses on a parent wanting the best for her child, and then their child wanting the best for her parent.

Regardless of where we were born, that is something universal and worth remembering.

ALISE CHAFFINS is a Morgantown writer who loves movies and sharing her opinions. She reviews a movie from a streaming service every Saturday and one newly in theaters every Sunday. Find more at MacGuffin or Meaning on Substack.