Horror Comedy Drama Sci-Fi
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Save The Green Planet (2003)
21st Mar 05
Byung-gu sets out to save the world by kidnapping the 45 year old Chairman of Yuje Chemicals, who he believes to be an alien prince from Andromeda.
Those Ker-azy Koreans. Not content with coming up with some of the most dark and twisted films of recent years (see Sympathy For Mr Vengeance and Oldboy), now comes Save The Green Planet, a strange goofball comedy hybrid that manages to be both bizarre and brilliant. Spouting from the mind of first time writer / director Jun-hwan Jeong, the film mixes genres such as kidnap drama, thriller, screwball comedy, extreme cinema, Kung-fu and sci-fi, leaving you in a whirlwind of ideas on an exhilarating ride through the eyes of one man on a demented mission to save the world.
The film starts straightforwardly enough, as our hero Byung-gu watches a homemade slideshow with his current girlfriend Sooni. The slideshow contains surveillance photos and notes of a 45-year-old man, Kang Man-Shi, chairman of Yuje Chemicals, and as they watch, Byung-gu reveals that the man is in fact not a man at all, but an alien from Andromeda. “You probably think I’m crazy”, he tells Sooni. “No, you’re not crazy.” she says back, lovingly gazing into his eyes, and together they hatch a plan to kidnap the man (alien?) in question, in a bid to ‘save the planet’.
Soon after, Byung-gu (wearing a strange helmet with lots of mechanical contraptions) corners the Chairman in a car park, and after an eventually successful scuffle, Sooni and Byung-gu bundle their unconscious victim into a car and set off to their hideout to the guitar sounds of a heavy punk rock version of ‘Over The Rainbow’. Back at their base, they strip the man, shave his head (“They use hair to transmit telepathic signals”) and tie him to a torture chair. Unfortunately (or fortunately for us as an audience) Sooni is none too clued up on all this alien malarkey, so Byung-gu fills her (and us) in on all the details, including the fact that although the aliens share the same gene structure as humans, they have a completely different nervous system that can be attacked by using a menthol rub in three areas of their body – the feet, the eyes and the er… cough… genitals. And when Sooni and Byung-gu hilariously set to work on rubbing the skin from Chairman Kang’s feet before merrily applying menthol rub, we begin to feel like this film is headed in the direction of pitch-black comedy, albeit one with a really sick sense of humour.
Bung in some cops (the gruff, yet utterly stupid Chief of Police, the young and eager Cop keen to prove his credentials and the rough and ready ‘disgraced’ hero cop) that set to work on solving the kidnap case, and we almost feel like settling in to watch the rest of this screwball comedy (Korean-style) with a big smile on our faces. Byung-gu and Sooni are so cool (yet obviously so whacked) that we are almost on their side as they challenge the Chairman to reveal his identity. Yet, it’s not long before things take a much darker twist, and we soon realise, with the help of some electrical cables, tooth-pulling and red hot irons to the pectorals, that Byung-gu may be deadly serious about all this after all, and that Save The Green Planet may not be the cheery happy ‘alien’ comedy that was at first expected.
There are so many good points to Save The Green Planet that it’s almost tempting to write a review ignoring the bad parts. The direction holds up extremely well (it’s not quite in the same league as Chan-Wook Park, but close enough considering the budget), with some lovely atmospheric cinematography and editing. There are even some great little graphics and CG sequences that pop up in little ‘wow’ moments every so often (check out Byung-gu’s heart-starting kick to the chest at one point in the film), and the whole style resembles a glossy magazine version of an Asian Se7en.
The acting is great, especially from the two leads Ha-kyun Shin (who was also in Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Yun-shik Baek as the much-maligned Chairman Kang in two very physically demanding roles (fight fans won’t be disappointed with this film). But it’s the script that really shines, taking a simple premise (man kidnaps man he believes to be an alien) and running with it all the way to the goal line. Twisting and turning, the plot snakes around, making us realign our allegiances more than once as we try to work out whether Chairman Kang really is an alien, or whether it’s all just part of the demented imagination of poor Byung-gu. A mixture of Oldboy, Saw, Misery, with a dash of Silence of the Lambs, the tense ‘basement’ scenes are often quite chilling, and there’s more than enough dark humour to raise the odd laugh, even though you’ll often be questioning yourself why you found something so dark so amusing (take the steaming metal dildo as a case in point). And any film that features a dog called Earth is fine by me.
Stand out set pieces include;
- The first torture scene set to the haunting strains of a melancholic version of ‘Over The Rainbow’ (the song is a recurrent theme throughout the film, probably because the director nicked an old music box from the producer or something)
- The honey in the face and the bee attack is laugh out loud funny
- Byung-gu’s pronunciation of Chairman Kan’s ‘real’ name
- The Chairman’s first escape attempt right up to the part with the pellet-firing gun
- The impressive montage explanation of the earth’s history (2001-homage aside), with a great montage charting the story of the dinosaurs, through to modern-day via Atlantis, the Nazi death camps and the atomic bomb.
Yet all this wouldn’t count for much if the film didn’t have a heart and as we learn more about Byung-gu, his motivations become clearer, and when he loses some people that are quite close to him, we almost feel the pain as much as he does and the film takes a turn towards tender and sad. It’s this ability to make you laugh out loud one minute, cry out in horror the next before hitting you with a sucker punch that’ll give you a lump in the throat and a teary eye straight after, that sets this film apart from the chasing pack.
Unfortunately the film doesn’t quite hold out all the way until the end, and occasionally feels heavy-handed in its effort to get its, admittedly worthy, message across. This is after all, a tree-hugging ecological film dressed up in a little sci-fi humour and lot of horror blood and tense violence, but really, don’t let that put you off. At 118 minutes long, there may be one or two endings too many (I won't say any more than that), but overall the film rarely outstays its welcome and contains enough imagination and ideas to fill the scripts of three 'Hollywood Blockbusters'. Whether this great little Korean film will ever get the attention at Blockbusters it thoroughly deserves though is up to you.
Ker-azy Koreans we love you. Take care of Earth, indeed.
Versions The DVD contains several deleted scenes, all of which are introduced by the director with an explanation as to why they were cut. There's at least one nice deleted scene that will satisfy gore-hounds.
There's a whole heap of other stuff too, including interviews with the cast and crew (the director's interview in his room at home comes across as quite strange), a documentary on the making of the film and lots more.
Features on this two-disc set include:
* Anamorphic Widescreen
* Korean DD2.0, DD5.1 & DTS 5.1 Surround
* English subtitles
* Director's Commentary
* Theatrical Trailer
* 8 Part Behind-the-scenes documentary (approx. 106mins)
* Interviews (approx. 60mins)
* Deleted Scenes (approx. 14mins)
* The Lazy Mirror - A short film by Jeong Jun-Hwan (approx. 3mins)
* DVD notes by SFX’s Jayne Dearsley
Buy this DVD at Amazon.co.uk for £14.99 (correct at time of publishing)