SAVE THE GREEN PLANET! (2003)
Often disturbing, regularly hilarious and always beautifully crafted, this is the bizarro tale of a young man attempting to stop an alien invasion
While Korean cinema is not known for its science fiction output, it is known for its absurdist, violent but surprisingly touching work, and this film has lashing of that.
A set-up so obscure it seems difficult to take seriously, but then it becomes a rift on mental health, torture ethics and the toll of suffering. From the lunacy rises something of genuine profoundness.
The film starts at a breakneck speed. You find yourself on a rollercoaster of weirdness, never quite sure when you will be allowed to get off.
Byeong-gu (Shin Ha-kyun) believes that aliens from the planet Andromeda are about to attack Earth and he is the only one that can stop them. Alongside his girlfriend Su-ni (Hwang Jeong-min), they kidnap the CEO of YooJae Chemical Company, Kang Man-shik (Baek Yoon-sik), who they suspect of being a top-ranking extra-terrestrial.
They believe Kang can contact the Andromedan prince during the upcoming eclipse and proceed to torture him for information. While Kang desperately tries to escape, we learn more about Byeong-gu's past and the true causes of his alien obsession.
In the mania and strangeness of this story, the wonderfully crafted and superbly framed nature of this film can be lost. Director Jang handles scenes of borderline torture porn with the delicateness of a director looking to produce something special for awards season. The film might be crazy, but the filmmaking is pure technical rationality.
It is masterful exhibition of blending genres, themes and emotions to create a deeply disorienting experience, in the best manner possible. You can be laughing one minute and your chuckles give way to disgust. It is an enjoyably confusing juxtaposition.
While the film is suitably billed as a comedy, and there are plenty of genuine laughs to be had at the start, it is less the torture violence that changes the mood, more about the emotion pull of understanding Byeong-gu's back story.
It is also a horror and psychological thriller, genres that it flicks between alongside comedy and sci-fi at a rapid and crazed pace. While these genre gear changes are relatively commonplace in Korean cinema, it is the film’s tonal shifts which enable it to pack its emotional punch.
Byeong-gu is initially pitched as psychotic, violent, if also slightly zany, but with his obsessive claims about aliens from Andromeda with telepathic hair, he is hardly the relatable planet-saving hero lead of most sci-fi films.
However, we manage to somehow empathise with this torturer. Start to understand his overall plight, if not his unsavoury actions. Realise the cruelty of the human condition and how the plight of circumstance can worsen these aspects.
In some senses Save the Green Planet! should not work, it cannot. Too strange, too fanciful, too jarring. That is where its genius lies. It completely works, it all comes together, it makes complete sense despite its senselessness.