Written and Directed by Naeri Do
Korean Language with English Subtitles
Screened at Grimmfest Easter Edition 2021
Schoolgirl Minyoung is questioned by the police when her classmate is found dead outside the school. Having been the last person to contact him, the police detective thinks she knows more than she’s letting on. A series of flashbacks reveal the deceased’s abuse against her but in the relentless bullying she faces, she has the opportunity to become more than she ever thought possible: transhuman.
Korean sci-fi TRANS is not your typical teen movie. It somehow manages to squeeze in a bucketload of complex ideas into its 90 minute running time to leave you scratching your head as well as banging it to the beat of the electronic soundtrack it features. Featuring time loops, Tesla coils and electric shocks aplenty, TRANS pits its quest for human evolution amid a backdrop of self-acceptance struggles, bullying and the yearning to be special and overcome the pain of young adult life… or at least that’s what I took from it!
Transhumanism is something which has been explored in movies before but is becoming more and more relevant due to the time we live in. The idea that a human can excel and become something more than they are with the aid of tech is something that Elon Musk’s is exploring with his company Neuralink. Personally, I think we should leave well alone and in TRANS, we see how the quest for this type of evolution has its risks, but is the reward worth it?
For an independent movie, TRANS features some inspired scenes, particularly in the secret lair of Itae who fancies himself as the pioneer of transhumanism, having already had a chip installed to combat his OCD. Impassioned about neural waves and Tesla coils, he certainly seems to know his stuff as he explains his plans to Minyoung, his bullied classmate who’s struggling not only with her peers but also with an eating disorder. With live feeds of brain patterns and waves appearing on the monitors in his tech room, Itae looks to be at the forefront of this technological idea though most of his script is above and beyond layman’s terms. As the movie progresses, so does the risk factor as Itae’s plans begin to effect others around him, including fellow classmate Nochul, and so begins the blur between experiment and ethics as, just like lab animals, the unwilling become the test subject. The film quote “too preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should” comes to mind as the power hungry, fearless teen Itae takes his obsession to the extreme.
TRANS is a very unusual film as it switches between typical school life and the struggles of adolescence to a yearning for transhuman existence. As a viewer, the scientific jargon spouted by Itae in his techno haven was a bit above me. Though it sounded true enough, the only thing that didn’t convince was how could a teenager know the ins and outs of the brain and have access to the tech he likes to experiment with. Granted, his shock helmets are nothing more than an open-face scooter helmet in reality but we suspend disbelief for the film’s sake. Despite this, you can’t help but wonder where his parents are and whether they’ve yet to discover the electricity bill young Itae is racking up in his experiments for human evolution.
When it comes down to it, the film feels six of one, half a dozen of the other. I really wanted to enjoy TRANS more than I actually did because its ambition is so great, but it felt like it was being restrained or held back somewhat. Flicking backwards and forwards between school time and Itae’s experiments, trying to get a handle on where we are in the story can be a bit difficult at times. Getting to know Minyoung in isolation, away from any other human beings except for Itae and her bullies, is awkward too as we feel like we’re kept in the dark about her character. Apart from her religious beliefs in Christianity, there’s not much we know about her and we know even less about Itae. No family or friend connections makes the journey they go on less impactful – no-one will miss them if it all goes wrong. So what are the risks? And do they outweigh the benefits?
Interesting ideas with some inspired sci-fi scenes is what propels this movie forward but as a whole it left me a little underwhelmed on the narrative. Nevertheless, TRANS shows that writer/director Naeri Do has a flair to take a movie beyond what we’d usually expect from cinema and I look forward to seeing what’s next from this filmmaker.