Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Yonder, on Paramount+

In Charlie McDowell’s The Discovery and the subsequent, derivative Next Exit, scientists discover the existence of an afterlife that holds cosmic implications. In contrast, Dr. K decides to invent one for his own peace of mind, digitally. Kim Jae-hyun, a journalist and grieving husband, suspects K’s scheme is as hubristic as it sounds in the six-episode Yonder, directed by Lee Joon-ik, which premieres today on Paramount+.

A few years into the future, new Korean euthanasia laws have the National Health Service working overtime to keep up with demand. In compliance with regulations, Kim helps his wife Cha Yi-hoo end the pain of her fatal cancer, but not before she is visited by the mysterious Seiren.

He soon deduces Cha contracted the services of the By N By corporation to download her memories and place them in a VR world known as “The Yonder,” from where Cha contacts her shocked husband via video emails. At first, he assumes they are deep-fake spam from Hell, but he realizes differently when he starts digging into the By N By. He even interviews Dr. K, whom he assumes is a deceased neuro-scientist, speaking to him from the Yonder.

It all sounds too good to be true, especially since real flesh-and-blood people are considering ending their physical existence, to join their loved ones in the Yonder. Unfortunately, that might include the extremely vulnerable Peaches, a member of his informal Yonder-family support group.

In addition to
The Discovery, etc, Yonder also shares thematic similarities with Pantheon, but its heartfelt, ultra-morose tone is K-drama all the way. Writers Kim Jung-hun, Oh Seung-hyun, and Kim Sung-cheol definitely focus on the emotional response to the speculative technology rather than the underlying coding. Yet, that allows them to build to a surprisingly distinctive climax.

also boasts many names that will be familiar to fans of Korean cinema and drama, including the director, Lee, who helmed The Throne. Shin Ha-kyun is achingly earnest as Kim, while Ha Ji-min is eerily spectral as Cha. Jung Jin-young (Jang Tae-jun’s decent mentor in Chief of Staff) is almost impossibly understated as Dr. K, yet, somehow, he still projects palpably unsettling vibes. Plus, Joo Bo-bi and Bae Yoo-ram nicely compliment Shin as the reserved National Health Service Dr. Jo Eun and the eccentric “Hacker Park,” Kim’s unofficial kitchen cabinet.

’s elegiac New Age music sounds like it was composed by Philip Glass on quaaludes, but you have to admit it sets the scene effectively. Lee takes his time, but his deliberate approach pays dividends. The series constitutes unusually character-driven, people-centered science fiction. Yet, despite the thematic material, it really should not offend believers of any faith, if they watch in good faith, so to speak. Highly recommended, Yonder starts streaming today (4/11) on Paramount+.