DNA: Dare Not Alter
In a not-so-distant, seemingly goth-inspired future, messing with people’s DNA appears to be quite the hot topic. Messing with good intent is one thing, but inevitably good things will always fall into the wrong hands of bad people.
Having been described as a ‘gothic post-apocalyptic film noir’, I can clearly see where the guy who thought it up was coming from and I won’t even deny that there’s at least some truth to be found in this description. However, a description like this is bound to make any viewer expect way too much from The Gene Generation, as it is lightyears removed from being the next Blade Runner or Dark City‘s mean little sister. It feels more like your average cyberpunk pulp-saga in a nicely polished package (of the kind in which one might expect Rutger Hauer to pop up, although he doesn’t this time). That’s not to say that there’s no fun to be had, of course, but just don’t get your hopes up on seeing a profound piece of work.
Set in the city of Olympia, a futuristic cesspool of chaos and despair, we soon learn that web pirates have become obsolete and the power lies with DNA-hackers. DNA can easily be re-written, making it a desirable product on the black market. Especially since people with ‘clean genes’ can obtain a ticket out of Olympia and to a better life. Michele (Ling Bai) is a hitgirl/killing machine for hire (working for the government) who has to eliminate people with fake gene-codes. Unfotunately, she also has a good-for-nothing brother with a gambling addiction. When he, by coincidence, steals a new prototype of gene-altering technology (called “The Transcoder”) to pay off his debts with some gangsters, the two siblings also become the target of a couple of mad scientists, out to reclaim their invention. Or was it really theirs to begin with…?
With The Gene Generation, director Pearry Reginald Teo adapted his own graphic novel into his first feature length film. While his efforts are somewhat admirable, I would have preferred seeing a bit more existential issues raised in the film, as well as seeing and hearing more about the DNA-hacking technology itself. As it is now, it’s mainly a story about the two siblings trying to survive and fight off both the underground and the mad scientists, and ultimately getting revenge in the process.
In the role of one of the scientists, we can spot Faye Dunaway. Or at least you can spot her in the beginning of the movie. As she’ll soon have an accident which will reduce her to a bunch of slimy, slithering tentacles for the remainder of the movie. I guess her paycheck was a little too high to keep her around until the end of the film. As far as special effects go, Pearry Reginald Teo took it as far as he could with his modest budget. So naturally, the CGI effects aren’t really on par with Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, but on a visionary level they still are quite impressive. Most images of Olympia might have you wondering if this story actually takes place on earth or on some distant planet.
As for the acting performances… Lead actress Ling Bai looks immensely cool & sexy and she does pull off the tough hitgirl attitude quite well. I guess she was lucky that this role wasn’t more demanding in the drama-department. She really is the main attraction of the cast (both with or without her cloths on), so don’t expect too much from the rest of them. Michele’s brother, Jackie (Parry Shen), is a rather pathetic character where chances are he will annoy many viewers: His character is of the kind that will always do stupid things or make the wrong decisions that will end up causing a lot of trouble. You’ll just wish Michele would kick him out or just ban him from her life, but of course then we wouldn’t have a movie, would we? As Jackie provides the link with all the villains in the story. Sadly, the villains (mainly the gangsters) are merely charicatures and do not help in adding a more serious tone to the movie. Some of the fight-choreography might have you reminiscing about The Matrix, but it’s all done with far lesser means in The Gene Generation. From that point of view, it’s good to see Reginald Teo didn’t try to stuff his film with similar scenes, as it would have for sure brought down the end-result.
Once it becomes clear that The Gene Generation isn’t the complex, action-packed tale of dark sci-fi you were expecting, you also realize that the straight-forward plot is there for its own good. It results in a pleasant watch, easy to sit through and the only surprises in the end, are discovering that not many characters will reach the end of the line. It all works, if you’re in an undemanding mood and have 90 minutes to kill. I’d love to overrate The Gene Generation, but for now the film remains just an admirable effort from a young director who -- when given more serious material to work with and a bigger budget -- might do a lot better in the near future.
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