The new Netflix Korean Thriller, Unlocked, is now streaming, but should you give it a watch?
As noted in our review of the post-climate crisis sci-fi thriller JUNG_E last month, Netflix has taken note of the demand for more Korean content and set up a massive slate of 34 upcoming titles this year, including 6 brand-new original films.
After JUNG_E kicked off with modest reviews (including my lackluster “Pause” review), Netflix and Korean film fans hope for a better outcome with the latest Korean thriller dropping this weekend, Unlocked, the debut feature from actor turned director Tae-joon Kim.
Based on the novel by Akira Shiga and adapted from the Japanese movie, Stolen Identity, Unlocked centers around the smartphone-obsessed Na-Mi, who loses her phone after dropping it on the bus coming home from a night out with friends. After a stranger finds the phone, he returns it to her with spyware installed to track her every move. Na-Mi’s life is turned upside down as she and everyone close to her is at the mercy of the whims of this dangerous man.
The film stars Woo-hee Chun (Be Melodramatic; Bong Joon Ho’s Mother) as Na-Mi, Si-wan Yim (Tracer, The King Loves) as the dangerous stranger known as Jun Yeong, and Kim Hee-won (The Man From Nowhere) as police officer Ji Man.
As smartphones and computers have been around controlling our lives for some time, the “hacker running havoc on someone’s life via personal devices” is not a fresh plot narrative. With this film, director Tae-joon Kim attempts to update the story by dividing the story between the three main characters: the victim, the criminal, and the officer who believes the criminal may be his estranged son that is connected to a recent murder victim found in the mountains. By doing so, the film shifts away from the standard “whodunnit” mystery to a creepier analysis of how and why this stranger would ruin a seemingly random woman’s life.
While the cyber criminality aspect of the story did make me want to throw my cellphone into the ocean and install a landline once again, I felt that the three main characters didn’t grab me in their respective roles.
Na-Mi is a very average victim with an incredibly thin personal connection to her stalker that develops after her phone is stolen. Her life is not particularly interesting or intricate in design, so when her life is upended, the drama is turned down until the stakes become potentially lethal at the very end of the film.
The stalker we know for most of the film as Jun Yeong has no true motive for his crimes. He’s a psychopath, a liar, and a decent hacker, but overall his presence in the film does not meet the level of the escalation in his offences. This is partially because Si-Wan Yim seems to be miscast in this type of role. He doesn’t convey creepiness or a level of menace that would denote a criminal of this level. He seems to play his character with a flat effect that barely moves the needle even as the danger increases. He also journals his every intention which takes away most of the surprise as the plot unfolds.
The only mystery element in the story belongs to the connection between the detective working the case and our criminal lead. While he quickly deduces that his estranged son is somehow involved, the detective still bungles many aspects of the investigation including identifying the criminal when they trap him late in the film. The plot unveils a late change that gives us a more charged ending and a bloody showdown, but it’s not enough to save a more pedestrian crime drama before the conclusion.
Overall, Unlocked doesn’t build upon the inherently terrifying cyberstalking reality we could all face at any time. With seemingly no motive, very little personal connectivity, and a lack of presence in the characters that matter most, the film fails to bring this story to a boil.
Watch Unlocked on Netflix if you like:
- Stolen Identity
- Unfriended: Dark Web
MVP of Netflix’s Unlocked
Park Ho-San as Na-Mi’s Father.
While his character may not have had a great time, I enjoyed the father-daughter relationship between Park Ho-San’s character and Na-Mi. Their connection and chemistry lead to some of the more compelling scenes at the end of the film. Park Ho-San continues to perform well in Korean Netflix films as he is quite good in The Call and Night in Paradise.
PLAY, PAUSE, OR STOP?:
While not a movie you will feel comfortable screening, the less compelling narrative and lead characters will make you think it’s worth the risk.