Showing posts with label 지구를 지켜라. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 지구를 지켜라. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Save the Green Planet (2003) and My Discovery of Korean Cinema - Part II

Originally posted on New Korean Cinema on January 24th, 2012

Genre-blending is a very prevalent technique in Korean cinema, the main reasons for this being economies of scale.  The larger a demography you can appeal to, the more likely you are to boost your attendance and therefore revenue streams.  But even in an industry replete with generic hybrids, Save the Green Planet takes the cake.  Korean filmmakers are so good at this technique that they have come close, as I have claimed before, to transcending generic labeling altogether.  Why does a film necessarily need to have labels ascribed to it?  Plenty of reasons, to make them more readily identifiable or targetable for instance, but I appreciate the freedom afforded by splicing so many conventions into long-form that our generic radars become obfuscated and thus we can be surprised again, another rarity in today’s cinema.  Not all appreciate this technique it must be said, even the immensely successful and popular The Host (2006), which is similarly poly-generic, has more than its fair share of detractors, who chiefly cite the film’s failure to settle on any distinct path.  I, for one, disagree with these people:  In my mind such a view is a product of complacency, comfort, and knowing what to expect.  It is also a way to control what we see, as though we can exercise some form of hegemony over what we watch, but that is a discussion for another day.

What I love about Save the Green Planet is its boundless energy and unchecked ambition.  It must be said that not everything works, to be honest, for some viewers maybe very little works, but rookie director Jang Joon-hwan doesn’t seem to have worried too much about what stuck and what didn’t, he was just having too much fun with the material (which he wrote) to worry about being measured or diplomatic.  The end work reflects this style as Jang’s filmmaking exuberance is infectious and the fun transmits directly to the viewer.  There’s no question that we share in his experience of having made this film.  The danger of course is that Jang’s film may have been a flash in the pan, it’s been eight years already and he has yet to tackle a sophomore feature though he did participate in 2010’s omnibus Camelia which I haven’t seen but have not read any great notices for.  More than anything, these days he’s know as successful actress Moon So-ri’s (Oasis, 2002) husband.

Byeong-gu (Shin Ha-kyun) believes in aliens, not only that but he believes that they are planning to destroy the planet and that he is the man to stop them.  Armed with pepper spray, a helmet and garbage bag garb to block alien brain waves, and his unwavering purpose, he and his tightrope walking girlfriend kidnap Man-shik, the CEO of a major corporation.  Byeong-gu believes that Man-shik (Baek Yoon-shik) is an alien and is determined to extract information from him in his isolated hillside lair in Kangwon province.

Essentially the film is a B-movie that splices in many cultish and violent elements to mount a frenzied and anarchic narrative.  For much of the film this is what Jang achieves but he does so with much more care and skill than we expect from other films of the same ilk.  The film immediately opens up with comedy and sci-fi before quickly moving on to what is tantamount to horror and torture porn.  Soon Jang throws in some procedural elements as the hunt is on for Man-shik’s abductor.  However it is at the two-thirds point that the film truly shows us what it is.  Its scope, which was already substantial, takes on voluminous proportions as we are filled in on Byeong-gu’s backstory and his connection to Man-shik, not to mention what may be behind his paranoia.


Like many a Korean film before it and just as many that followed, Save the Green Planet delves into its protagonist’s past and weaves the narrative threads together with melodrama.  Seemingly a tough proposition, this actually works remarkably well in the form of a well-edited montage, aided by a moving and lush string theme led by a melancholy cello.  If this weren’t enough our quick journey through Byeong-gu’s life serves as a searing indictment of society and authority in recent Korean history.  Suddenly what seemed like a curious oddity, albeit an exhilarating one, is infused with purpose.  But Save the Green Planet is an especially special kind of film so woe betide it to stop just there as Jang punches into high gear with a big leap up to the macro level.

When Man-shik finally confesses his origin a new montage unfurls which hurtles us through an alternate history of our entire civilization.  It’s a witty and crafty story but it too hides an ace up its sleeve as Man-shik recounts the atrocities of human civilizations, accompanied with footage of some of our unbecoming history’s most infamous acts of iniquity.  Jang is lamenting the violent gene inherent in our species but it’s a double-edged sword as he fully recognizes and embraces its existence in his own DNA, as evidenced by the violent nature of his film.


It should be a priority for anyone serious about Korean cinema or indeed cinema in general to take the time to watch this film.  Easily one of the most innovative works made in the last ten years, Save the Green Planet is a veritable tour-de-force that almost redefines the purpose and possibility of cinema.  Out of the many trips I’ve taken to the theater, which stretch well past a thousand, the midnight screening of Jang’s film is still my fondest silver screen experience.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Save the Green Planet (2003) and My Discovery of Korean Cinema - Part I

Originally posted on New Korean Cinema on January 24th, 2012

Once upon a time during a cold, wet winter’s night, my tattered shoes leaking, I trod the murky streets of Dublin for an hour on a rainy Saturday night.  At the time I had only just moved to the Emerald city and though I knew many people in town I rarely fraternized with anyone on the weekends.  It wouldn’t take long for this to change but it didn’t really make me feel lonely, in fact I felt liberated.  After six years of boarding school a few miles up the Liffey River and fifteen of holidays and odds and ends locked away in a remote village in the xenophobic Swiss Alps, my wet feet and permeable clothing didn’t bother me as much as they might have.  The best part of my newfound freedom was that I could go to the cinema however often I pleased, better still was my unlimited membership to the local UGC cinema.  For a few quid a month I could indulge in a wealth of cinema spread across seventeen screens.  My weekends were spent living in the theater and I would often watch four or five movies on the trot.

On this particular Saturday night near the end of 2004 I caught a late show at around ten o’clock but I can’t for the life of me remember what I saw.  But what I’ll never forget is what I watched next.  In those days while the distribution company Tartan was still solvent, they used to stage an ‘Asia Extreme’ roadshow which, according to Film Cut, “toured then UGC cinemas (now Cineworld Cinemas) around the UK with the programme of films that Tartan considers to be the most daring examples of ‘extreme cinema’.”  I had seen a funny-looking poster of a grinning man wearing a garbage bag while riding planet Earth and I decided to watch this film based solely on the fact that it was Korean.  Back then I had only dabbled in Korean films but what I had seen had left a strong impression on me.

My first introduction to Asian cinema came when I was researching some versions of Macbeth I could watch for my English class in secondary school.  Having already got my hands on Orson Welles’ and Roman Polanski’s versions I dug a little deeper and heard about an old Japanese film called Throne of Blood (1956) by some guy called Akira Kurosawa.  The title seemed a little silly to me but I’d heard it was quite good so I tracked down a BFI copy on Amazon and popped it in the player.  I think it’s fair to say that the axis of my life shifted somewhat that day.  Kurosawa’s take on Shakespeare was brilliant, it was magnificent, it was mesmerizing, and I was in awe.  Completely forgetting about my English class I delved headfirst into Japanese cinema and I rarely came up for air for months.

A while later I was browsing through the Asian film section of my local FNAC (a French media retailer) in Switzerland when I came across a really nifty deluxe, embossed, double-DVD package.  It was green, there was some shiny blood on the cover, it looked kind of out there, and it had a really cool name so I picked it up thinking it might be somewhat akin to a Takashi Miike film, whose catalogue I was raging through at the time.  The film was Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and it was nothing like all the Japanese films I had seen because of course it was Korean, but I hated it.  It was unremittingly bleak and gratuitously violent, which I was no stranger to, but in a manner that was so downbeat and realistic that I was traumatized by it for a week, until I was compelled to watch it again.  During the second go-round, once again my axis shifted ever so slightly.  I was beguiled and repulsed at the same time, anger and sadness coursed through me but it was not my own.  Though I would not know it for a while, I had stumbled upon ‘han’, the melancholy which permeates so many of the very best Korean films.  For the time being I was electrified and I needed more, so back to the shelves of FNAC I went.  This time I came back with a double bill of Peppermint Candy (1999) and The Isle (2000).  The former taught me infinitely more about Korea than I had ever known and the latter shocked and impressed me.  This introductory triptych of Korean film already had me drawing parallels and marveling at how an emerging national cinema could be so fresh, self-aware, and successful.

It was this feeling that led me into the theater that was exhibiting a midnight séance of Save the Green Planet (2003), despite the tacky poster.  I was the first person there so I had my choice of seating, as I always do I opted for dead centre in the middle row.  As it turned out I was the only person who came in for this screening but that was fine by me.  I had no expectations for the film and I certainly didn’t think it could match any of the three Korean works I had already seen but then the projector started rolling.

It’s a funny thing to be surprised these days, more and more we are trained to expect things.  We witness events and minutiae unfold in an infinite cycle of cause and effect.  When we walk into a theater we are loaded to the gills with expectations.  In the grand scheme of things there is actually very little that we don’t know regarding what we are about to see.  We know it’s a film, we assume there will be images projected on screen and that some combination of dialogue, music, and foley sound will blare out from the sound system.  We’re fairly certain that there will be people, a story, relationships, props, locations, and much, much more.  All that even before the media barrage that we are relentlessly subjected to in the digital era.  We may know the actors, the director, the writer, the genre, the plot summary, or the country of origin.  We may have seen the poster, the trailer, clips, seen reviews, or even read the book that the film is based on.  Every so often I like to walk into a film with zero expectations, besides those very first ones I’ve listed, but increasingly it’s become very difficult to do this.  Given how much I read online about films I can’t really stroll into a multiplex and not know something about every film on the marquee.  The best place to do this is film festivals, even the most well-informed and up-to-date cinephile is not privy to information regarding absolutely every film on a reputable international event’s program.

On this occasion I was at a multiplex but the Tartan ‘Asia Extreme’ roadshow served as a kind of mini festival and in any case I was not familiar with a number of the films, including Save the Green Planet.  The only things I knew about it were that it was Korean and that it looked weird, after a few minutes I also ascertained that Shin Ha-kyun was in it, as I knew him from Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.  But before recognizing him, I was already hooked.

The opening montage, with a frenetic voiceover explaining a ludicrous theory about a businessman posing as an alien, was exuberant, wacky, and completely unexpected.  It was breathlessly paced, hilarious, and featured some strong mise-en-scene which included brilliant editing and an expertly placed swell in the score.  The hooks were in and I was ready for and thrilled to be on this ride.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.