Movie Review: Seobok (서복)

Korean writer-director Lee Yong-joo/이용주 (ARCHITECTURE 101/건축학개론) throws everything including the kitchen sink into his first effort in nine years to come up with the sci-fi/supernatural/melodrama/buddy road trip film, SEOBOK.  If that sounds like the recipe for a muddled mess, you’re right.

In SEOBOK, Min Gi-heon (Gong Yoo/공유, TRAIN TO BUSAN), is a former intelligence agent who is brought back into the Company after a three-year absence.  Korean scientists have created the world’s first human clone, named Seobok (Park Bo-gum/박보검, Korean TV’s RECORD OF YOUTH/청춘기록), and some shadowy groups that include “the Americans” want Seobok for themselves because his body contains the secret to immortality.  (“Seobok” is the Korean pronunciation of “Xu Fu/徐福”, who was a character in the Qin Dynasty who was sent by emperor Qin Shi Huang to find the elixir of immortality.  If you want to keep your science experiment a secret, maybe you shouldn’t choose such an obvious name for your first creation?)  Gi-heon is suffering from an inoperable brain tumour that causes him excruciating pain and only has about six more months to live.  He is told by his boss that if he can keep Seobok safe, the scientists can harvest Seobok’s stem cells to cure him.  While transferring Seobok to a secure facility, their convoy comes under attack from one of these groups.  Gi-heon manages to escape with his charge but not before he comes to learn that Seobok also has strong telekinetic abilities and can move objects with his mind.  Not knowing whom to trust, Gi-heon and Seobok take flight but their road trip around the country soon comes to an end when all the players in this cat-and-mouse chase catch up to them.

There is a good germ of a sci-fi/action/thriller story here but rather than delving into the bioethics of creating clones to harvest stem cells, which it very briefly touches upon, SEOBOK unfortunately gets lost in a myriad of teary subplots includes Seobok’s origins and the reason why Gi-heon left the Company three years earlier.  So much happens in SEOBOK’s 115 running time that a good chunk of the film could easily have been left on the cutting room floor and it wouldn’t have mattered.  It probably would have improved it.  After a frequently sluggish second act where Seobok demonstrates his ability to emulate Charlton Heston in THE 10 COMMANDMENTS, SEOBOK offers up what may possibly be the longest the third act ever committed to film.  It just goes on and on, with plenty of bullets flying and some rather uninspired, big-budget CGI that wouldn’t feel out of place in an off-brand superhero movie.  When Seobok’s fate finally does get resolved, the audience is left wondering why it needed to be so drawn out.  Jump, Seobok, jump already!

SEOBOK had been scheduled to be released in South Korea a few months ago but was postponed due to the resurgence of covid in that country.  It’s now getting a theatrical release combined with a streaming release on TVING today (April 15), marking the first-time a Korean big-budget film gets the simultaneous, two-platform treatment.  We, here in Hong Kong, are also getting the film in our cinemas today.

SEOBOK is only for hardcore fans of Park Bo-gum who won’t care that the film is complete rubbish.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, April 16th, 8:30 am HK time!

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