Solid work that may not stick with you
The result of “stem cell cloning and genetic modification”, Seobok (Park Bo-gum) is a singular specimen. While he looks human, he’s been raised entirely under scientific observation and due to his unique properties, he is considered to be potentially immortal. He also has some… untapped abilities, shall we say. As such, corporate profiteers begin to hatch plans to exploit Seobok and soon after an array of double crosses, Seobok is on the run trying to stay a step ahead of varying factions who want him for differing, self-serving reasons. Our hero on this tale is Seobok’s only hope, the former agent Ki Heon (Train To Busan and Squid Game’s dreamy Gong Yoo). Ki Heon is in need of a little redemption after some shady past dealings and a terminal illness numbering his days. Together our leads will play cat and mouse and learn to trust one another.
It’s a fairly standard template. Equal parts X-Men and Midnight Special, Seobok focuses on the lead characters in a way that is effective, taking them on a road trip of self discovery and danger. But as superpowers and action escalate, the film begins to feel a whole lot like the endless films we are getting these days about powers and youthful angst. One angle that is somewhat unique to Seobok’s story, but ultimately also frustrating, is that it wrestles with ideas around immortality and second chances at life, but it does so not with a character that has lived dozens of lifetimes, but rather a young and vulnerable character. Unfortunately that concept isn’t explored in a particularly interesting way. Sure, you’ve got the burned out and terminal hero in need of redemption crashing into the vulnerable but superpowered immortal being, so there’s inherent tension and growth potential there. But it’s just hard to get invested in a character that is only theoretically immortal, but that has neither experienced much of life nor feels invulnerable in any way because his “immortality” can seemingly only be sustained with major medical intervention. There are moments when Seobok’s unique set of powers and deficiencies are interesting, but more often than not he feels like a muddled concept.
The greatest strengths of the film come from Gong Yoo’s performance and character arc. Initially invested in this mission only to save his own skin, Yoo’s Ki Heon will come to care for Seobok and become the only person who really treats Seobok with any kind of agency or humanity. This is executed well, with Ki Heon coming to realizations about his selfishness and shortcomings, and meditating on whether he even deserves a potential second chance at life since he has largely squandered his first attempt. It’s in these moments, the human moments, when Seobok: Project Clone shines and connects.
Director/co-writer/co-producer Lee Yong Zoo does infuse a visual flair to the film, handling the visual effects effectively, and bringing heart to the human components. There’s a neat water motif utilized throughout, evoking both death and wonder. And when Seobok has quiet moments connecting with the outside world he has never before experienced having grown up in a lab, it’s potent. But lead actor Park Bo-gum seems very much like a grown adult to me, albeit a young one, and characters throughout seem to be referring to Seobok as a boy. With little details like that the overall vision of the film doesn’t always seem to cohere.
There’s much to appreciate in Seobok, and I found it to be enjoyable. A couple weeks after watching, however, it hasn’t really stuck with me in any meaningful way. Better when it’s slowing down and focusing on character moments, and more generic when it evokes X-Men imagery, fans of South Korean cinema can find a lot better genre fare than this one, but it’s simultaneously a pretty slick and breezy blockbuster-style diversion.
Well Go USA’s Blu-ray release of Seobok is attractive, and features a pretty standard set of a couple of bonus featurettes that seemed to be produced in Korea and ported over here, as well as a trailer. Honestly even just the few minutes of bonus features helped increase my feelings on the film, but if you’re looking for in depth behind the scenes content, you aren’t getting that here. I recommend the film overall but the curious may want to consider checking the film out via a digital rental because the minimal bonus features aren’t going to blow anyone away, even if they are a nice touch.
And I’m Out.
Seobok: Project Clone hits Digital, Blu-ray, & DVD February 15th, 2022 from Well Go USA
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