On 15 April 2021 the South Korean mega hit film called ‘Seo Bok’ was released. The movie is mainly about philosophising mortal and immortal life. The perception explains situations of a human who was in near-to-death situation and someone who lives forever. It depicts the two different sides of living where someone wants to live and on the other side someone thinks living as restlessness. All this sets up an ambitious premise around exploring what it means to be human, and what it means to live or die.
At the start of the film we get to know the main character Min Ki Hun (Gong Yoo), who is a former intelligence agent. He is plagued by a brain tumour and a very foul mouth. Ki Hun stumbles through his life trying to find meaning while swearing at everyone and everything, as he doesn't have much longer to live. One day, he receives his irresistible last mission from his former boss Chief Ahn (Jo Woo Jin), director of South Korea’s intelligence agency. Chief Ahn offers Ki Hun a chance to miraculously cure himself of his brain tumour, by being the bodyguard of the world's first ever human clone that possesses the secret to eternal life, Seo Bok (Park Bo Gum). And the mission is to safely transfer Seo Bok to a new, safer location.
Seo Bok is only 10 years old and the very first successful prototype of a human clone whose genes were entirely modified through genetic manipulation, rendering him an undying being. Seo Bok was named after Xu Fu, an ancient Chinese alchemist and explorer tasked by the Qin emperor to find a plant that is known for giving eternal life. He had bone marrow that produces stem cells with proteins which after being injected into a human being would grant him everlasting life and cure any human disease. But that's not all.
As a side effect, Seo Bok also has telekinetic superpowers, allowing him to move objects and generate pressure waves around him. If you had the elixir of immortality on hand, you'd think that everyone would want to get their hands on it, right? And that's exactly what happens. During transportation of Seo Bok, an internal war breaks out between NIS and Medical organization. A war between humanity and immortality. That’s why Ki Hun has to protect Seo Bok no matter what happens.
As the film goes on, Ki Hun gets to know more about Seo Bok and how he ate and tested all day long his whole life and he starts to sympathise with him. Slowly the mission to escort Seo Bok turns into one where he needs to protect Seo Bok from his powers, which rapidly surge out of control as his emotions get the better of him.
Ki Hun realizes that Seo Bok will forever be a lab rat, having his DNA sucked out for humanity's use for as long as he lives. Exactly as extracting bile from a bear kept alive for no other purpose than to produce bile.During the road trip around Korea to save Seo Bok, he grows closer along the way with Ki Hun. Since Seo Bok has never been outside of the research laboratory before he becomes a little baby and gets curious about everything he sees. And that includes being curious about ramen noodles or trying on different colorful clothes.
Meanwhile, behind all this dramatic pursuit was the philosophical paradox of how death is what kept humanity alive and going as we know it now. As humans are the only species who are aware of their own mortality, fear of death gave life its meaning. With immortality, humans would lose this drive, only fostering greed. Ki-hun and Seo Bok also argue about worthiness to live and the reasons why one wants to go on living.
In true Korean cinema tradition, behind all its expensive-looking sci-fi special effects of the fancy hi-tech laboratory facilities as well as the violent displays of Seo Bok's powerful telekinetic abilities, ‘Seo Bok’ is a thought-provoking personal and philosophical film at heart.The film takes its supremacy through the acting of Park Bo Gum and Gong Yoo and showing the aspect that Death is what that keeps humanity alive. The action sequences and visuals were good too. The partnership between Park Bo Gum and Gong Yoo was outstanding.
It's clear that the film’s director Lee Yong-Ju enjoys ‘The Matrix’, as SEOBOK repels bullets and missiles and everything else without so much as lifting a finger. The director also did a great job as he made Seo Bok a male character. Even though he at first thought Seo Bok as a female character but didn’t do it as it could have made the film a romance drama and cliché like many other films about first human clones. He also said in an interview that when he began working on the film, his focus was on the human fear rather than the human clone. "I did not begin writing the script with the theme of eternal life or a human clone in my mind. The script began with my intention to write a story about human fear," he said. The director’s previous work “Architecture 101”, a successful romantic comedy was a hit too.
‘Seo Bok’ is a film about clones and was produced with a large budget of 16 billion won (US$14 million). It had been scheduled to premiere last year in December, but the debut ended up facing a long postponement amid the COVID-19 pandemic.Finally the film was released simultaneously in theatres and via streaming media TVING and Netflix on April 15, 2021.According to Korean Film Council data, it is at 8th place among all the films released in the year 2021 in South Korea, with gross of US$2.01 million and 235,011 admissions, as of April 19, 2021. It was at the number 1 place at the Korean box office, on the opening day of its release, collecting 45,155 audience. It remained at the number 1 place, till the fourth day of its release, as 36,183 persons viewed the film.
While other hotly anticipated Korean films like ‘Space Sweepers’ (2020) and ‘Time to Hunt’ (2020) skipped theatrical releases and went straight to Netflix due to pandemic, this marks the first case of a film premiering simultaneously in theaters and via an online video service. It’s also the first example of a streaming release for a film by CJ ENM, South Korea’s top-ranked film investment and Distribution Company.
When actor Gong Yoo first read the script for his upcoming film ‘Seo Bok’ he felt like it was asking him a question. “I felt like it was asking me “So, what is the purpose of your life?” Gong Yoo told local reporters during a joint media interview Tuesday via Zoom. “I could not give an answer to that question. This experience stunned and interested me.” He explained that he decided to do this film because it was not only written for the sake of entertainment. Among the scripts that he received at the time, this was the one that made him feel the agony that the creator had gone through. When asked whether he found the answer to the meaning of life after shooting the movie, the actor responded “No.” He took the role because he wanted to find the answer to the question, but he came to the conclusion that he can’t figure this out through a single film. He thinks that he will search for the answer his entire life.
‘Seo Bok’ is a really good film with slice of sci-fi and philosophising mortal and immortal life. Everyone should at least give this film a try.
Rumaiysa M Rahman is a 10th grader at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Dhaka