Based on its American title alone, “Seobok: Project Clone” sounds like some low-budget, straight-to-video, B-movie with Bruce Willis as its lead. In reality, South Korean director and screenwriter Lee Yong-ju offers up something considerably different – a movie that will have you anticipating one thing while delivering a dramatically different experience.
“Seobok: Project Clone” frames itself as a science-fiction action flick and there is certainly some of both in Yong-ju’s movie. But it doesn’t take long to notice that there is more going on underneath its showy surface. We quickly see that the film’s real interests are cerebral and philosophical rather than meeting any specific genre expectations. Yong-ju wants his his audience to think about and wrestle with the themes he presents. In this case, it’s mortality and the many layers of thoughts surrounding it.
Gong Yoo (“Train to Busan”, “Squid Game”) plays Ki-hun, a former intelligence officer who is commissioned by a shadow organization called “The Company”. They need him to escort a valuable asset to a safe house following the assassination of one of the group’s top scientists. Ki-hun is leery at first but agrees after being told by the cryptic Director Ahn (Jo Woo-jin) that the asset can save his life. We learn Ki-hun has been struggling with severe headaches and fainting spells, the results of a brain tumor that has left him with six months or so to live.
Ki-hun goes to a research laboratory hidden in the belly of a giant docked freighter where he is to retrieve the asset. Inside he learns that the asset is actually a clone named Seobok (Park Bo Gum). “He’s more of a new species that a direct human clone,” informs the new head scientist who goes on to explain the science and value of their creation. Turns out Seobok is believed to hold “the secret to conquering death.” Due to genetic manipulation, Seobok’s body produces special proteins that can cure any and all human diseases including Ki-hun’s cancer.
There is one rather notable side effect. Seobok is able control matter with his mind. It’s no small thing, and as you can probably guess, it’s something that definitely comes back into play as the movie moves forward.
With Seobok’s creator assassinated, it’s clear that some rather nefarious people want their hands on this genetic “technology“. And as the only successful source of their work, the Company needs Seobok protected at all costs. So Ki-hun and Seobok set out on a most unconventional road trip to a secret safe house where clinical trials can begin. Easier said than done. Soon the terrorists are hot on their heels and it quickly becomes evident that not everyone can be trusted.
While the movie features a couple of inevitable action scenes, the real surprise is found in the almost meditative nature of second-half. As he spends more time with Seobok, Ki-hun slowly moves from antagonistic to compassionate. And as he begins to see Seobok as more than a piece of technology, it opens up considerations that Ki-hun (and frankly the audience) never see coming. A rich and textured relationship forms which Lee Yong-ju uses to ask a series of thought-provoking questions.
As “Seobok: Project Clone” navigates through the moral dilemmas and murky ethics of its story, you can’t help but be impressed by how much it has on its mind. And it’s always nice to see a filmmaker using genre for more than just thrills and chills. In this case, Lee Yong-ju tries to cover a tad too much philosophical ground. This not only bogs his film down in spots, but it also leaves it feeling unfocused. Still the film still manages to deliver something fresh and surprising. And who doesn’t love being surprised. “Seobok: Project Clone” is now available on VOD.