Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fantasia ’16: Sori, Voice from the Heart

This freshly sentient AI surveillance satellite should monitor a screening of Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky or perhaps Johnnie To’s film of the same name. Both would give her a greater appreciation of her purpose. Instead, the satellite of love crashes to earth and teams up with a Korean father desperately looking for his long missing daughter. Short Circuit style hijinks gets a massive dose of fatalism in Lee Ho-jae’s Sori: Voice from the Heart (trailer here), which screened during the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Naturally, Kim Hae-gwan had a terrible row with his college-aged daughter Yu-joo the last time he saw her. Shortly thereafter, she presumably perished in a terrible transit fire. Yet, without a body, Kim refuses to give up hope. Following up a false lead on the Incheon Islands, Kim literally stumbles across the NSA satellite he will later dub Sori. It too is on a mission. After intercepting a cell phone call from a girl caught in the crossfire of an attack on the Taliban, Sori is determined to find her and protect. She too is wracked with guilt for facilitating the strike. However, as Alan Rickman’s Gen. Frank Benson would point out, the drone strike might very well have prevented far worse horrors in the form of a suicide bombing. (By the way, it is not too early to start talking posthumous best supporting actor for Rickman.)

Thanks to Sori’s skill set, Kim is finally able to track various cell phones associated with his daughter. Of course, a narrative of this nature faces two potential perils, a ridiculously phony happy ending or a massive downer. Instead, Lee and co-screenwriter Lee So-young try to fake some symbolic redemption, but the film just works better when it embraces the tragedy.

Lee Sung-min (awesome as the cop in Broken and the crooked prosecutor in A Violent Prosecutor) is simply devastating as Kim. Chae Soo-bin is maybe even more heartrending as Yu-joo. Their backstory will pretty much do you in. However, Sori herself rather conspicuously looks like something kit-bashed together with parts leftover from R2D2 and Number Nine. Granted, it is nice to see Lee Ha-nui play a smart, forceful character like KARI (Korea’s space agency) scientist Ji-yeon, but her dialogue is conspicuously loaded with exposition. Lee Hee-joon fares even worse as the blandly arrogant NIS working with and against the Yanks to recover Sori.

Frankly, Lee Ho-jae and So-young’s didactic criticism of the NSA gets awfully old, lightning fast. There is genuine grit and integrity to Lee Sung-min’s performance, but the film still leaves viewers feeling manipulated. Not a priority to catch up with, the greatly mixed Sori: Voice from the Heart had it Quebec premiere at this year’s Fantasia.