Sunday, August 16, 2020

SF8: The Prayer


Finally, a sci-fi show to watch.

 According to Asianwiki:

 8 film directors participated in "SF8," with each person directing a 1 episode TV special. The genre of the specials deals with science fiction, including AI, AR (augmented reality), VR, and robot games.

Which reminds me a bit of Black Mirror series. Now, as I'm one of two people I know who don't sing sky high praises of BM, I hoped it would be sci-fi but with a Korean twist that is giving the characters some emotions and thus - making us care about them.

Even though the series was made public some weeks ago, MBC started airing on August 14, so I will be writing some short impressions on the episode after it will have aired. 

The action is set in 2046 when the nursing homes are more numerous than the regular houses and when the paper is so expensive that you have to be a millionaire to publish a book in paper. The story takes place mostly at one of such homes, where we meet the characters and problems they face.

And there is a whole plethora of problems. 2046 as the year of the story is chosen very wisely. It's not that far from 2020, but as many experts point out, by 2050 the populace of South Korea will be mostly elderly (same goes for Japan), plus it will shrink. In order to have someone to care for the elderly or other patients that need to be taken care of 24/7, we have androids. And this episode clearly shows what robotic shows and companies' pledges don't - that having a robot taking care of an ailing person widens the social gap tremendously.

The titular Gan Hojung is an android taking care of the elderly patient in her 80, who has been for 10 years in a vegetative state. It's an extremely tiring and unrewarding work, so we have robots to lessen the burden of the families. The family can order such a robot and voila - it takes care of the family member that needs constant attention. However, we learn that there are different levels to the robots - some have more functions than others and of course it is reflected in their performance. Some have just basic functions and they are not programmed to step beyond their boundary - even if they cost an astronomical sum. That's the case of the Choi Jeonggil's robotic assistant. She's programmed to do only basic performance even though the woman sold her house and took a loan to buy her. And then we have Yeon Jeong-in and her top class android - Gan Hojung who can analyze and make guesses.

Such disparity causes Choi Jeonggil fall into the crevasse of despair. She still has to do a lot of work by herself, precisely because her android is not autonomous enough. Exasperated, she tries to kill her husband, but the android stops her, as she was programmed to take care of him. The outcome of such desperation is tragic - she commits suicide during one of her husband's rare lucid moments and is not saved by the android because she wasn't under the robot's care.

I did not expect the poem by Wisława Szymborska in a Korean drama, but here it was, one of her most famous and poignant ones.

But these events prompted Gan Hojung to be even more attentive to Jeong-in, picking up any hints to the suicidal thoughts and plans. So, Hojung comes to the conclusion that in order to save one life, another has to be snuffed out. And she decides that the mother has to die. She calls Sister Sabina who visited the nursing facility earlier and talks with her about her worries and plans. Sabina tries to persuade her to not kill the mother, however Hojung is determined. She believes that the woman's death will free Jeong-in and allow her to continue her life without the shackles of an unconscious parent. 

There is also a contrast shown - whenever Hojung makes a call, the receiver always uses the analog way, the landline.There is a clash of technology.

However Hojung did not take one thing under the consideration - no matter how hard it was for Jeong-il and she did in fact try to hang herself in an empty publishing room, that was still her mother and she was rather ready to kill herself than to think about switching off the machines that kept her mother alive. Hojung probably took Jeong-in's bond as something else, which was exemplified by the almost kissing scene, but this threw yet another question to the mix - was Hojung really feeling the emotions of love and she did all that in its name? If she did, she made that one mistake of misunderstanding Jeong-il and her wishes and emotions. Because the moment Jeong-il learned it was Hojung who turned off the monitors and oxygen tubes, her demeanor changed dramatically - in a fit of rage and hatred, she critically damaged Hojung.

A year after the events we follow Sabina when she's visiting Germany - the origin country of the androids and is allowed to visit Hojung, who has been kept all that time, because of her unusual processes and data. The android pleads with Sabina to kill her and end her misery, so she wouldn't be subjected to tests and pain. Sabina refuses, just as she refused one year ago to allow switching off the machines. And this is the third time in this episode there is such of an occurrence.

The whole story has the buckle construction - starting and ending with the same quote about Cain, the biblical first murderer. And we are left with questions - did Sister Sabina kill the android or not? Was she then marked as the first android killer? Or did she take her hand away from the kill switch and stayed true to her beliefs that she cannot kill a sentient being?

 It dealt with the classical sci-fi conundrum about robots and whether they can feel either physical or emotional pain. Can androids pray? Can they feel resentment and hatred? Can they feel compassion? But also, the episode of this anthology dealt with more pressing problems like inequality, like the aging population and all the problems that come with that process. Also - the burden it puts on the next generation, especially with unresponsive patients or those with heavy mental issues. We, as a society, are not prepared to face it and no robot will help us to deal with that.

All in all - I'm a bit underwhelmed but since it's a separate story, it would not deter me from watching the rest.