Seo Bok review: Park Bo Gum is a violent psychic in his latest sci-fi thriller

Park Bo Gum in Seo Bok. (Photo: Courtesy of Golden Village Pictures)
Park Bo Gum in Seo Bok. (Photo: Courtesy of Golden Village Pictures)

Rating: PG-13
Length: 115 minutes
Director: Lee Yong Joo
Cast: Gong Yu, Park Bo Gum, Jo Woo Jin, Jang Young Nam, Park Byung Eun
Release details: In theatres 15 April (Singapore)

2.5 out of 5 stars

My ears perk up whenever I hear the name Park Bo Gum. Having watched him grow from a shy, reticent youth in Reply 1988 to a mature, flourishing young adult in Record Of Youth last year really has set my sights on his thriving career, eager to lap up any new content he puts out.

Pair him up with the chocolatey-voiced thespian Gong Yoo (Train To Busan, Goblin: Great And Lonely God) and you get Seo Bok, a sci-fi thriller that promises much swearing, pseudo science and rampant devastation.

This is director Lee Yong Joo's first hand at a sci-fi thriller, having previously presided over period romance and mystery-horror titles, so I wasn't expecting anything too over the top; boy, was I mistaken.

Gong Yoo in Seo Bok. (Photo: Courtesy of Golden Village Pictures)
Gong Yoo in Seo Bok. (Photo: Courtesy of Golden Village Pictures)

Ki Hun (Gong Yoo) is an ex-intelligence agent who is plagued by severe migraines and a very foul mouth. Director Lee must've felt either gleefully childish or petulantly frustrated to make the celebrated A-lister curse so much during the whole course of the film.

I felt rather miffed as Ki Hun stumbles through his life trying to find meaning while swearing at everyone and everything, until he comes across his former boss, Chief Ahn (Jo Woo Jin) of South Korea's intelligence agency.

Chief Ahn offers Ki Hun a chance at redemption and even to miraculously cure himself of migraines, by being the bodyguard of the world's first ever human clone, Seo Bok (Park Bo Gum).

Named after Xu Fu, an ancient Chinese alchemist and explorer tasked by the Qin emperor to find the elixir of life, Seo Bok is a human clone and the very incarnation of immortality and humanity's greatest salvation; his DNA contains the strains of self-healing and replication, which after being injected into a human being would grant him everlasting life.

But that's not all. Seo Bok's unique constitution also manifests another side effect; unbridled and overwhelmingly destructive telekinesis. Think the greatest espers and psychics in the world, like X-Men's Charles Xavier or Tatsumaki from One Punch Man.

What was supposed to be a simple escort mission turns into an all-out psychic rampage like in the anime Mob Psycho 100. Ki Hun's 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.

As the plot progresses, Seo Bok realises that he will forever be a lab rat, having his DNA sucked out for humanity's use for as long as he lives; very much like extracting bile from a bear kept alive for no other purpose than to produce bile.

If you had the elixir of immortality in hand, you'd think that everyone would want to get their hands on it, right? And that's exactly what happens. Terrorists try to abduct Seo Bok, but it is clear he doesn't need protection at all.

It's clear that director Lee enjoys The Matrix greatly, as Seo Bok repels bullets and missiles and everything else without so much as lifting a finger. Gong Yoo is reduced to merely fodder, providing a pseudo older brother-like figure who clumsily inducts Seo Bok into the real world, who has only ever experienced life in a laboratory.

Seeing Park Bo Gum's compelling acting on the silver screen again really warmed the cockles of my heart, but the cursing from Gong Yoo and the over-the-top psychic CGI displays really got in the way of the bigger questions of how the first ever human clone should find his place in the world, without everyone trying to siphon his DNA for everlasting life.

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