Fantasia Film Festival presents Seobok, book tickets here.
Mark Twain once famously wrote, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” In this statement, Twain explores how the concept of death is central to human behaviour and the importance of living our lives to the full. After all, without our conscious realisation of individual mortality, would the human race not fall further into individualistic and selfish behaviour? Indeed we can easily argue that death keeps life in balance.
These themes have long held a place in science fiction filmmaking as directors explore what it means to be human; from Interstellar to High Life, many have explored the notion of human mortality in an ever-expanding universe of infinite possibilities. However, with Seobok, director Lee Yong-Ju brings us down to earth by studying genetic engineering and the link between mortality and human consciousness. Here he reflects similar themes to those found in D.A.R.Y.L (1985) and Blade Runner (1982) while equally embracing the comic book world of the X-Men. The result is a fascinating mix of genres as Lee Yong-Ju merges science fiction with electrifying action and the classic road trip.
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A retired government agent, Gi-hon (Gong Yoo), is slowly falling apart, his days a toxic mix of regret and drugs as he attempts to control a brain tumour slowly eating away at him. However, when his ex-employer returns from the shadows, Gi-hon finds himself blackmailed into taking on a new mission. Here his top-secret task is to escort a valuable scientific product from one lab to another. But, when Gi-hon arrives at the hidden lab, he is surprised to find the product is, in fact, a young man. Seobok (Park Bo-Gum) is a product of genetic engineering, a clone created to solve humankind’s most significant flaw; death.
Seobok’s blood carries properties that will enable the human race to find immortality, but his life is one of a mere gold-plated lab rat as he is prodded and probed. But, as Gi-hon accompanies Seobok in an armoured transport designed to protect them, a surprise assault on their convoy places Gi-hon & Seobok in mortal danger, and as they run for their lives, the hopes, dreams and thoughts of both men collide in a blaze of rebellion.
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Seobok will undoubtedly divide opinion due to its mix of genres and themes. For example, those seeking an action movie may be disappointed by the drama that weaves through the electrifying but short action sequences. At the same time, those seeking pure sci-fi may feel Seobok strays too far into comic book territory, especially in its finale. However, Seobok will enthral those willing to enter Lee Yong-Ju’s world with an open mind as its creativity jumps from the screen with its bold and fresh approach to a series of tried and tested themes.
Of course, this success would not be possible without the lead performances of Gong Yoo and Park Bo-Gum, both of whom effortlessly dovetail the action set pieces with the film’s broader themes of mortality, which brings me back to Mark Twain’s thoughts on death. Seobok attempts to navigate the critical role of death in defining life – our obsession with eternal youth and longevity, a clear and present danger.
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