espite being a box office flop in its native
Korea, "Save the Green Planet" has been enjoying a great deal of
success at international film festivals. Apparently the reason behind the
film's initial commercial failure was that it was marketed as a wacky
romantic comedy, presumably to cash in on the success of films like "My
Sassy Girl". This is a real shame, though I guess I can sympathize
somewhat with the film's distributors. Although "Save the Green
Planet" is most definitely not a romantic comedy in any shape or form,
it is kind of hard to pin down exactly what type of film it is, since it
contains science fiction, human drama, serial killings, police
investigations, and much more.
Thankfully, despite having a plot
that initially seems like it's banking everything on a 'big twist' type
finale and thus heading into the dull and sterile territory of M. Night.
Shyamalan, the film turns into something quite different, being quite moving
and making a genuine effort to speak to the viewer. At the end of the day,
"Men in Black" on acid comparisons aside, this film is at heart a
character study that focuses on fear, despair, and our struggle to make
sense of why our lives are so full of pain.
It's probably best if I keep the plot details
somewhat sketchy, as a fair proportion of enjoying "Save the Green
Planet" comes from trying to work out where the constantly shifting
story is going next. Basically, the film follows Byeong-gu (Ha-Kyun Shi,
for Mr. Vengeance"), a man who believes that the world is under
threat from alien invasion and that he is the only one who can intervene.
Aided by girlfriend Su-ni (Jeong-min Hwang), Byeong-gu kidnaps people he
believes to be aliens, interrogates them, tortures them, and then kills
them. His latest victim is Kang (Yun-shik Baek, "The
Big Swindle"), the CEO of a large corporation, and a man who may
turn out to be more than a match for his captor. As a lone police
investigator closes in, Byeong-gu becomes more desperate and his mental
state declines, leaving everyone wondering if he is in fact insane, or if
aliens really are planning to invade the Earth.
As I mentioned, at first the film may seem like it's
putting all its eggs in one basket and relying on the 'is he crazy or not'
ending to keep the viewer entertained. However, although this question is
obviously an important part of the fascinating plot, the film is far more
concerned with the actual character of Byeong-gu, the life he has led and
things that have been done to him. As things progress, it becomes clear
that first time director Jun-hwan Jeong (who also wrote the 1999 submarine
thriller "Phantom") is trying to make a statement about the
cruelty of human beings and life in general. This message is developed
gradually as flashbacks and current events reveal more about the main
character, and is generally very successful, despite a few unnecessary and
obvious attempts to generate empathy towards the end.
This is not to suggest that "Save the Green
Planet" is slow moving or being purely reliant on its more cerebral
aspects. In fact, the film is fast moving and packed with entertaining
scenes, which despite being mixed in from a variety of genres come
together to form an exciting, coherent whole that perfectly compliment its
emotional core. The film is generally very funny, though most of the humor
is of a very dark vein, and this helps the viewer sympathize with the
As a result of this, the violence, of which there is
quite a lot, some of it rather unpleasant (the film has a Hong Kong
Category III rating), has a great deal more impact than in other films.
Events in the film do frequently turn bloody and sadistic, often mixed in
with slapstick comedy, leaving the viewer feeling both amused and
uncomfortable. However, the film never steps over the line into
incoherence, and instead maintains a sense of manic originality and
freshness that is uncommon in so many recent films.
Given that the film is very much character driven, it
is fortunate that Ha-Kyun Shi is excellent in the lead role. His
performance is note perfect, winning audience sympathy with a character
who is actually quite frightening and whose actions are often repellent.
The true measure of Shi's success in the role is that by the end of the
film, the viewer cares not so much whether he is insane or not, but as to
what will happen to him regardless. The rest of the supporting cast is
similarly good, especially Yun-shik Baek as the abused captive whose
chances of survival appear to be getting slimmer by the minute.
Overall, "Save the Green Planet" is an
original and innovative effort that manages not only to entertain on
multiple levels, but also to make the viewer think and feel. Although it's
a hard film to label, this is undoubtedly one of the best of the last few