Film review: 'Advantageous'


Advantageous is the most recent feature by director Jennifer Phang, who has previously introduced her creative world at the Sundance Film Festival and the Asian American International Film Festival. Together with Phang, Korean-American actress Jacqueline Kim (starring as the heroine, Gwen) co-wrote the script, and Ken Jeong, recognized for his self-deprecating acting in the comedy film Hangover, attracts attention for his attempt in a serious role as a supporting actor.

The following post contains spoilers.

Photo: Jacqueline Kim as original Gwen in Advantageous. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Set in the near future, Gwen is a single-mother and a salesperson for beauty treatments at the Center for Advanced Health and Living.

Out of the blue, Gwen gets fired for being too old, and despite her abilities and experience, learns that the only way she can make a living is to donate her eggs.

To take care of her daughter Jules, Gwen visits her former boss, Dave Fisher, to volunteer herself as a test subject for a new treatment under development that transplants a person’s consciousness into a new body. In trepidation of the impending procedure, Gwen visits her cousin Lily and her husband Han, and reveals that Han is her daughter Jules’ real father to ask for financial help. However, Lily, who has already been aware of the inappropriate relationship, refuses to help.

Without any other option, Gwen changes her body to basically become a different person on the outside.

Young and beautiful Gwen 2.0 regains her job and becomes the star of the company, but Jules has trouble getting used to her mom who seems changed not only in appearance but also in her attitude. Gwen 2.0 confides to Fisher that she does not feel anything for Jules and Fisher confesses that Gwen’s consciousness was not fully transplanted into her new body, and this realization drives the new Gwen to tell Jules that her mother is dead. However, amid this unprecedented and seemingly unresolvable conflict, Jules and the new Gwen forge emotional bonds to present a new concept of family that is the central theme of this film.

Photo: Freya Adams as new Gwen in Advantageous. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

It is possible to compare Advantageous to Minority Report, which also deals with the fundamental philosophical questions surrounding futuristic technologies.

Advantageous asks about human consciousness – whether it exists in the body or the mind – while Minority Report questions whether humans can deal with the ability to see into the future. While Minority Report narrates the changes in the hero as he is betrayed by the technology he believed unquestioningly (after he is singled out as a criminal by the future crime-predicting technology), Gwen makes a voluntary choice with full knowledge of the risks and responds to the realized dangers.

There are no twists, suspenseful scenes, nor fights between man and machine in this film. In a way, audiences with preconceptions about the Sci-fi/Fantasy genre will find the film itself to be a major twist.

Photo: Gwen and Fisher (James Urbaniak) discuss her options in Advantageous

Advantageous is closer to a psychological drama that follows the influences of technology on human life. Centering on the common desire for everlasting youth and beauty, Jennifer Phang describes exquisitely the calm emotional exchanges between Gwen and Jules, while adding melodramatic elements through the changing dynamics of Gwen, Lily, and Han.

Throughout its narrative, Advantageous shows how human solidarity remains strong despite technological development.

Photo: Samantha Kim as Jules in Advantageous

While waiting for her treatment, Gwen prints out photos of important moments in her life and hangs them in her room. As the new Gwen tries to recall her memories through those photos, the photos become symbols of the desperate desire to connect her future and past selves and to preserve moments that cannot be exchanged even with youth. Nor is Fisher, Gwen’s former boss, a typical mad scientist, but a complex character who feels constant hesitation even as he pushes the limits of technology, who explains the risks of the treatment to discourage Gwen.

Gwen’s character acts as the glue that holds together the narrative that could have otherwise become distracted by its rather extreme topic or slow cinematic approach. Gwen is professional to a fault but loses her job just because she’s old. She wishes to connect with her daughter while desperately keeping her daughter’s real father a secret.

However much she tries, Gwen cannot be the perfect woman or mother, and this brings realism to the narrative.

It is unfortunate, though, that the short running time of 90-some minutes hindered the director from digging deeper into the relationship between Gwen and the characters around her. Lily and Han’s change of heart near the end is touching but Gwen’s past or her relationship with Han remain untouched.

Advantageous is a great choice for those who enjoy sleek cinematography and characters’ subtle emotional development, but the ending may leave a bitter taste for those who prefer predictable genre films.

Jennifer Phang gives minute attention to detail to raise one clear question: How to keep the human bond no matter what. True to its message, Advantageous was expanded into a feature film from a short with the support of a Kickstarter campaign. Considering how Kickstarter strengthens collective endeavor through shiny new technology, it seems a fitting match.

(Written by Youngmi Kim. Youngmi is from South Korea and now lives in Vienna, Austria. She holds a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature and European Studies, and is on her way to get another Master’s Degree in Theatre, Film, and Media Studies.)

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