Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival is back, and has a jam-packed selection for its 25th Anniversary. It feels a bit like overload, but cinephiles, clear your schedules and get some good popcorn – this will require some marathoning! Some of the films screen at the same time, so it might be hard to choose. But others are available On Demand (VOD) throughout the duration of the festival. If you’re brave enough to face a real-life cinema after many Montrealers have received their two doses of the Covid vaccine, there are also a few in-person viewings.
But where to start? The choice for first-watch was a bit predetermined for Cinetalk. Due to time constraints with the scheduling, we went with South Korea’s Seobok. It is only available until August 7th for us journalists, and we wanted to publish our review early enough for people to read it and maybe be inspired to watch the film. It will continue to be available to the general public for the full festival period (on VOD).
A genetic research lab is located on a would-be Noah’s Ark. In a docked ship, researchers are preparing for the future, and his name is Seobok. The childlike young adult is the result of stem cell cloning and genetic manipulation. But someone over-manipulated this specimen, and surprise! He accidentally also has telekinesis.
This science-fiction thriller also yearns to be a buddy film. The first tense moments are carefully interspersed with cute exchanges between the Specimen (Park Bo-Gum), as he’s sometimes called, and Ki-hun (Gongyoo, Train To Busan, 2016). The latter is recruited to protect the clone but falls into a tangle of betrayal. But at all costs, he must protect Seobok who holds the cure for Ki-hun’s brain tumor.
The current generation might find director Lee Yong-Ju’s vision new and refreshing. However, Seobok is not the originator of concepts such as medical ethics, nor supernatural teenagers. Some of the final scenes are downright Carrie and The Fury-esque (Robert DePalma, 1976 and 1978). Older audiences would also notice similarities to other films that treat themes of cloning, artificial intelligence, and their relationships with humans.
If we leave aside this slight lack of originality, and certain under-developed plot points, both lead actors do a very good job with what might be a bit of a weak script. The location shots are pretty, and the interiors are moody with just the right amount of futuristic gadgetry. This is an opportunity for some interesting CG animation. Though it’s not over-the-top, it adds a bit of wonder to the supernatural moments.
Morality is in question throughout. Humans are greedy and easily scared. Strange Americans alternately want to steal or eliminate the clone. Meanwhile, Ki-hun starts to understand that death gives meaning to life.
Anticipate a finale that screams Do not make the supernatural teenager do mean things, imbecilic humans!
Fantasia Film Festival 2020 runs from August 5th to August 25th. 2020.
Seobok – On Demand as of August 5th.