Unlocked (2023) by Kim Tae-joon

 "As long as I have this phone, I can control anyone, and I can be anyone.

The Story of Unlocked movie

In the digital age, our smartphones have almost become an extension of ourselves, and we depend on our phones for many of our daily tasks. This also means that our devices contain a lot of our data, much of which is highly sensitive, and in the wrong hands could be harmful to us.

For his directorial debut, Kim Tae-joon adapts the popular Japanese film "Stolen Identity," itself based on a novel of the same name, and brings a Korean sensibility to this real-world problem in Netflix's latest Korean film, "Unlocked."

Unlocked (2023) by Kim Tae-joon

Beginning with a stylish montage showing how much we depend on our smartphones every day, we meet Lee Na-mi who, after a night of partying and drinking, forgets his phone on the bus, an incident that is about to change his life for the worse. The phone is recovered by Oh Jun-yeong, a hacking expert who manages to access his data. 

Jun-yeong is obviously not new to this, as he uses it and the remote access he then has to the phone to make Na-mi's life a living hell. What initially appears to be stalker-like behavior soon reveals an unglamorous truth about Oh Jun-yeong and his activities. Elsewhere, Detective Woo Ji-man discovers a dead body in the mountains, which leads to a potential serial killer case in the city that may have something to do with his son whom he hasn't seen in years.

Unlocked (2023)

Every day we hear about phone scams, with money or identity theft becoming more and more common. While a more recent Korean production, "On the Line" from last year, focused on voice phishing and the financial theft that comes with it, "Unlocked" takes a much more sophisticated look at what a malicious individual can accomplish by simply accessing your phone's password, and even how easy it is for someone to gain access to that password. 

The way Jun-yeong uses Na-mi's information to turn her life upside down is frighteningly effective and feels eerily real. Internet videos, documentaries increasingly warn us about the dangers of having too much information online and in our phones, and "Unlocked" rather vividly depicts the extent to which this information can be used against us.

Kim Tae-joon also manages to successfully blend these very real issues with the serial killer subplot, without it feeling disjointed. Once again, the incompetence of the police force is a recurring flaw in the story, which seems to be an unnecessary prerequisite for serial killer thrillers in South Korea. The scene where Woo Ji-man and his partner are confronted by Oh Jun-yeong is one such incident that leaves a bitter aftertaste. 

Unlocked (2023) Official Trailer

However, the victim-blaming that occurs when Na-mi and her best friend go to report the hacking is certainly an accurate representation of the response that these types of cases often tend to receive, not only from the police, but also from the public.

The casting of Chun Woo-hee as Lee Na-mi is the ace up Kim Tae-joon's sleeve. Having already worked with him in "Office", where Kim was an assistant director, Chun Woo-hee is once again top-notch here, making Na-mi a very understandable and likable character. 

Gentle when she talks with her father and best friend, frightened when she realizes her professional and social life might be slipping away, and the dread followed by the resolute ferocity of the climax, she is very watchable, as always. The casting of Im Si-wan as Oh Jun-yeong, however, is an oddity. 

He works best when he's supposed to be this suave, tech-savvy criminal in the first half, and his obvious appearance makes it easy to see why he would cheat on Na-mi even when he meets her personally. However, he betrays himself in the second half when his ruthless and evil character is supposed to come out. Kim Hee-won is effective but underused as Detective Woo Ji-man, while Park Ho-san is quite charming as Na-mi's father.

Review Unlocked (2023) by Kim Tae-joon

Technically, "Unlocked" benefits from nice, bright cinematography, with the picture often making use of on-screen graphics to illustrate the use of the phone. The close-up camera used when Jun-yeong is supposed to be spying through the camera on Na-mi's device helps convey the gravity of the situation to the audience. The music also suits the genre, and its use is particularly impressive in the scene where Oh Jun-yeong is cornered by Woo Ji-man and his partner on the street. 

The editing could have been a bit more precise, as a few minutes less of the film's length would have apparently worked better for this story.

Without having seen the Japanese original, "Unlocked" is an impressive thriller that incorporates a strong social message in a compelling way and proves that Kim Tae-joon is a name to keep on your radar, with Chun Woo-hee once again impressive in a production that dares you to look at your phone and not be paranoid about it for days after the credits roll.

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