Shin Ha-Gyun as Lee Byeong-Gu
Baek Yun-Shik as Kang Man-Shik
Hwang Jung-Min as Sun-i
Lee Jae-Young as Detective Chu
Like the bastard child of Davids Lynch and Fincher, this bizarre sci-fi thriller gives new meaning to the words “alien abduction”.
Lee (Shin Ha-Gyun) is a lonely beekeeper, who thinks that aliens from the planet Andromeda plan to destroy the earth. The only way to stop them is to capture their royal leader, who happens to be disguised as Chairman Kang (Baek Yun-Shik), the wealthy and quite corrupt head of the corporation where Lee used to work. Lee takes Kang hostage and uses various methods of torture to get the exec to confess to his true identity, as we learn that there’s a lot of madness behind Lee’s methods.
At this point, one has to be thinking that there’s something in the Korean water system causing the country’s filmmakers to make such strange and quirky movies like this one. Either that, or there’s a monthly meeting of Korean directors to figure out ways of screwing with the minds of American moviegoers, while enticing Hollywood to pay them millions for the rights to their bizarre ideas.
Korea’s latest export is Jang Jun-Hwan, an artist who was given $4 million to make a quirky film that never stays in one genre long enough to be pinned down, but shows equal competence in all of them. People may be thrown off a bit by his film, since it’s been advertised as a wacky sci-fi farce, but it’s really played a lot more seriously than one might expect despite a few funny moments.
As we watch Lee’s capture and experimentation on Chairman Kang, it becomes clear that his delusions of aliens might just be a cover-up for him to torture a corporate figurehead. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but after awhile, you realize that Lee might not be the protagonist of this story despite his desires to save the earth from aliens. His girlfriend is even stranger, a woman who still acts like a naïve young girl, playing with dolls and perfecting her tightrope act. She helps him with his plans until Kang turns her against Lee. Although your first instinct is to feel sorry for Lee and his madness, there’s a certain point where you start rooting for the corporate tyrant that Lee is torturing, even hoping that he’ll escape. Until the point that Kang actually does break free, the premise takes a long time to really get going, and it’s only at that point that the movie starts getting interest with a fun battle of wits between Kang and Lee.
Jang Jun-Wan is especially good at building suspense with sequences that will make you squirm in your seat as you start to realize how sadistic Lee might get to try to get Kang to confess to his alien identity. At one point, Lee even takes a cue from Kathy Bates in Misery, threatening to hack off the chairman’s legs with an axe for his escape attempts! As a viewer, you’re unsure how much pleasure Jang might get in showing every excruciating minute of Kang’s torture, but he finds inventive ways of pulling the rug from under you.
Kang’s abduction quickly gets the attention of the police, and a has-been detective treated poorly by the police captain begins his own private search for the missing executive. This leads to a climactic scene involving Lee’s bees and one of the film’s funniest sight gags. From that point, the movie begins to pick up steam as others join the search for Kang, building up to a series of endings that get crazier and crazier.
For those more interested in the film’s science fiction angle, the movie’s last twenty minutes get more into that, allowing Jang to use his budget to create some impressive visual effects after the rather modest production values of the movie’s first half. It’s a bit hard to adjust to all the changes in tone and genre, especially towards the end when Jang throws another twist just as you think you’ve finally figured out what is going on. Still, it’s a mostly satisfying ride and a solid thriller.
The Bottom Line:
Save the Green Planet is a strange but clever mix of genres that might not be everyone’s cup-of-tea, but the open-minded may get a kick out of Jang’s quirky and eccentric sci-fi thriller, which works far better than Signs.