Unlocked (2023) Review – fantastic premise but mediocre thriller

By Lori Meek
Published: February 18, 2023 (Last updated: last month)


The premise for Unlocked is fantastic, but the result is a mediocre yet entertaining thriller

Directed by Kim Tae-joon, we review the 2023 South Korean Netflix film Unlocked does not contain spoilers.

The South-Korean mystery thriller, Unlocked is director Kim Tae-joon‘s first full feature. Based on the novel of the same name by the Japanese author Akira Teshigawara, the film was initially meant to have a theatrical release before the production company decided on a straight-to-Netflix premiere. With a cast including the K-Pop star Yim Si-wan and the critically acclaimed Chun Woo-hee, expectations for this title were high, perhaps a bit too high. 

Unlocked (2023) Review and Plot Summary

Unlocked starts with a highly accurate sequence portraying a day in the protagonist’s life from her smartphone’s perspective. Na Mi (played by Chun Woo-hee) is a start-up marketer who works part-time at her dad’s Seung Woo (Park Ho-san) cafe. After a drunken night out with her friends, she passes out on the bus and leaves her phone behind. Luckily, the person who found it is willing to give it back. They’re even kind enough to drop it off at a phone repair shop and pay for its screen to be fixed. Unbeknownst to Na Mi, her phone landed in the hands of Oh Jun Yeong (Yim Si-wan), who installed spyware on her device and used it to stalk her and insert himself into her life. 

We’re also introduced to detective Ji Man (Kim Hee-won) and his partner, Jung Ho (Jeon Jin-oh). They’re investigating the brutal murder of a young woman whose body was just uncovered. At the crime scene, Ji Man finds clues indicating that his estranged son, Jun Yeong, could be the culprit. The two detectives decide to quietly investigate Jun Yeong and find out if he’s a murderer before telling the rest of their colleagues and risking Ji Man’s career in the force. 

The premise for Unlocked is intriguing and a terrifying reminder of how much we rely on our smartphones. These pocket-sized supercomputers contain all our conversations with friends and family, our memories, our work schedule, our hobbies, and even our banking details. And the idea of some deranged psycho getting their hands on these profoundly personal details and using them for nefarious reasons makes for a great horror plot.

Unfortunately, the execution is a bit messy. We don’t spend enough time with Na Mi to care about what happens to her. The killer’s actions make little sense. At one point, I thought I was watching the Korean version of You before devolving back into senseless chaos. Despite the relatively long runtime, too many narrative pieces are left in the air. 

Yim Si-wan is excellent as a villain. His portrayal of the deranged serial killer was chilling. And the chemistry between the two leads made the little cat-and-mouse game fun to watch. I also found Kim Hee-won’s performance as a father stuck between his duty and his need to protect his son compelling, and I wish that particular dynamic had been explored more. 

Is the 2023 South Korean film Unlocked good?

The premise for Unlocked is fantastic, but the result is a mediocre yet entertaining thriller. While there are a few muddled-up bits, the acting is top-notch, and the story is engaging enough to keep you watching for the entire runtime. 

What did you think of the 2023 South Korean movie Unlocked? Comment below.

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