Jigureul jikyeora! (Save The Green Planet)

Rating 4

Written and directed by Jang Jun-hwan

Starring Shin Ha-kyun, Baek Yun-shik, Hwang Jeong-min, Lee Jae-yong, Lee Ju-hyeon and Gi Ju-bong

Lee Byeong-gu (Shin Ha-kyun) believes he has uncovered a plot by aliens from Andromeda to invade the planet Earth. Aided by his childlike circus-tightrope-artiste girlfriend Su-ni (Hwang Jeong-min), he kidnaps Kang Man-shik (Baek Yun-shik), a powerful company chief executive, who he believes is one of the aliens in charge of the impending attack.

The eccentric Inspector Chu (Lee Jae-yong) begins an unofficial investigation into the kidnapping. Chu is a maverick and discredited police detective who, so it would appear, now works in the kitchens at the police headquarters. His methods and theories are at odds with those of the team officially investigating the case, led by Squad Leader Lee (Gi Ju-bong), although the young Inspector Kim (Lee Ju-hyeon) is keen to help him, despite Chu making it clear he always works alone.

Lee Byeong-gu keeps Kang Man-shik captive in the labyrinth of underground chambers beneath his isolated rural home and systematically tortures him, but gradually the real reasons for his psychosis, his delusions and his actions are revealed.

‘Save The Green Planet’, to give the film its international title, is the directorial debut of South Korean film director Jang Jun-hwan and it remains his only film to date. It was released in South Korea in April 2003. It won awards at film festivals in Brussels, Buenos Aires, Moscow and Rotterdam, as well as in South Korea itself. In April 2005 it became one of the very few Korean films to be released into cinemas in America. It was exhibited in two cinemas over a period of five weeks and grossed $15,516.

This is possibly one of the most bizarre and barmy films I have ever seen. Putting to one side the long-gone days of anarchic Marx Brothers films like ‘Animal Crackers’ and ‘Duck Soup’, I was most immediately put in mind of Richard Kelly’s much-maligned ‘Southland Tales’. I like ‘Southland Tales’ and I remain deeply suspicious of the vitriolic reception it received from British and American film critics, both when it was shown at the Cannes film festival in May 2006 and subsequently when it went on general cinema release, beginning in November 2007.

Unlike the damning critical savaging that greeted ‘Southland Tales’, Jang Jun-hwan’s film received rave reviews. 39 of these reviews collected at Rotten Tomatoes result in an 87% fresh rating.

‘Save The Green Planet’ is a wild mix of sci-fi, horror, comedy and thriller, much like ‘Southland Tales’, and despite the slightly disorientating viewing experience created by these wild swings from one genre to another (a single scene might include stomach-churning torture followed immediately by slapstick comedy) it works very well. The characters all have their own appeal, irrespective of their individual personality traits or motivations. Although the film has been discussed as a commentary on global warming and current concerns about the damage being done to the planet, presumably because of the translated title, the intended message is open to much wider interpretation than this.

It’s a fascinating film that cannot help but highlight the paucity of fresh ideas often emerging from Hollywood – and indeed what passes as the British film industry – these days, although the extreme antipathy that greeted Richard Kelly’s film might go some way towards explaining why this is.

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