By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Jan. 18 (Yonhap) -- Director Yeon Sang-ho said Wednesday he wanted to blend a classic Korean drama with sci-fi about artificial intelligence in his upcoming Netflix movie, "Jung_E," to make it resonate more easily with the audience.
Set in the 22nd century, the dystopian movie follows an ambitious project to create perfect combat AI by using the brain of a legendary warrior, Yoon Jung-e (Kim Hyun-joo), which is led by her daughter Seo-hyun (played by late actress Kang Soo-youn).
Yeon, who helmed hit Netflix series "Hellbound" (2021) and zombie film "Train to Busan" (2016), said he intended to create a simple, relatable story that can provoke thoughts on many themes.
"Except for the fact that the movie is sci-fi, I think the movie deals with a universal theme that can be easily accepted by the audience," Yeon said during a group media interview held at a Seoul cafe, two days ahead of its worldwide release on the global streaming giant.
In the movie, Yoon Jung-e remains in a coma in a lab due to fatal injuries from a battle, but her brain is used to clone humanoids, and her real-life action figures are popular toys.
Seo-hyun is part of the project to bring her mother back to life as a powerful mercenary, but deviates from the original mission and lets one of the replicas go to live freely.
The director said he wanted to focus on a grown-up daughter's relationship with her mother, who remains at her last moment and locked in her own "existential hell."
"I intended to blend the classic Korean melodrama that could make people shed tears with sci-fi," he said.
The 45-year-old said his team tried to create the classic look of a cyberpunk flick, often represented with a sheen of cold blue and gray, and relied heavily on computer-generated imagery to portray human-like AI robots and a futuristic atmosphere.
"It doesn't look like sci-fi movies that follow recent trends but has the kind of classic sci-fi look that I like," he said.
Yeon said "Jung_E" means a lot to him, as it was his first and last work with late actress Kang Soo-youn, who died of a cardiac arrest in May 2022 when post-production was still under way.
The director said Jung_E resembles the personal story of the iconic movie star, who debuted at age four, and starred in a number of internationally acclaimed movies and popular TV series throughout her five-decade career.
"When the film was completed, I felt it was like Kang's story, a story for herself and a story for the rest of her female colleagues," Yeon said. "After Kang passed away, it became not just one of the works in my filmography, but a special movie and like my destiny."
Yeon also showed trust toward Kim Hyun-joo, who demonstrated her action skills and performed multiple roles: a mother, a warrior and a combat AI.
Given that Kim already had intense training for Netflix series "Hellbound," Yeon was confident that the veteran actress was ready for battle scenes and to synchronize with the multiple characters.
"In fact, the image of 'Jung_E' was vague at first, but I felt confidence after seeing (Kim's) hair and costume tests for the character," he said. "She had the perfect image of the character as a mother and a warrior."