Save the Green Planet!/Jigureul Jikyeora! [pt]
지구를 지켜라!
Directed by Jang Jun-hwan
South Korea, 2003 Colour – 117 min.
Starring Shin Ha-gyun, Baek Yun-sik, Hwang Jeong-min, Lee Jae-yong, Lee Ju-hyeon, Ki Ju-bong, Kim Dong-hyeon, Kim Gwang-sik, Won Ung-jae, Yeo Su-jeong.
Capa DVD
Byeong-gu (Shin) kidnaps Kang Man-sik (Baek), the president of a large chemicals company. The police search for clues but the kidnapper's intention is another, more selfless one: to stop the planet's invasion by alien forces from Andromeda. Byeong-gu lives with his girlfriend, Sun-i (Hwang), who joined him in the arduous task of defending the planet. Slowly, our “hero”'s profile is depicted, sticking out a turbulent and traumatic past leading to some episodes of mental disturbance.

Save the Green Planet revealed director Jang Jun-hwan — the author of an acclaimed short film called 2001: Imagine (1994) and co-writer, together with Bong Jun-ho, of Phantom the Submarine, by Min Byeong-cheon — with its victory at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan). It was later shown in several international festivals, including Sitges, where we had the opportunity to see it, gathering more awards, local and internationally, including the Golden Crow at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFFF). Unfortunately, in spite of the film's success before film festival audiences, the box office results in South Korea were far from great.

Jikureul Jekyeora!, as other films hard to place in a dominant genre, suffered at the box office for its non-linear language requiring viewers to be open-minded regarding the disrespect for the “genre rules”. It is a work best appreciated by those film lovers in search of ways leading to unknown whereabouts.

Shin, Hwang Baek
Byeong-gu (Shin Ha-gyun) and Sun-i (Hwang Jeong-min) try to persuade Kang (Baek Yun-sik) to admit he's an alien.

Two elements stick out reinforcing Save the Green Planet!'s non-typical aspects: the way it changes tone, possibly causing some confusion to a viewer trying to apply a single filter to the film (horror, comedy, drama, science fiction? — but what is this after all?) and the main character's mental conditions and behaviour, easily labeled as a dangerous psychotic: he obsessively gathers data on extra-terrestrial life and piles up personal data about those he suspects to belong to an advanced network organized to obtain information on the planet and its inhabitants in order to prepare the invasion; he kidnaps, he tortures and he accepts the eventual death of the eventual aliens.

Lee Hwan
Detective Chu (Lee Jae-yong) undertakes a parallel investigation. Sun-i questions Byeong-gu's mission.

Shin Ha-gyun's (JSA, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) main character, dressed in a improvised overblown uniform, a little more than a raincoat with attires found in the garbage and a miner's helmet — a flashback shows us that it was his father's trade — suggests a silly comedy. Some spoof and references to science fiction films seem to assure us we are treading in a well-defined familiar genre. But the tone changes dramatically when the set becomes Byeong-gu's dirty and smelly basement where he keeps his records and tries to interrogate or kill his suspects.

Is the character good, bad, insane? A clear answer (or perhaps not) only comes up during the melodramatic ending (not so uncommon in South Korean cinema). The change in tone is surprisingly well applied — there's method in madness.

If you ask me if this is a film for science fiction fans, the answer cannot be a direct one. We shall say it is preferable not to watched looking for science fiction. The element is definitely there, but the way the narrative is built disregards "genre". In a way, it is a mystery thriller about a man's disturbed mind, where the truth wavers according to the point of view. The conclusion cannot explain everything inside Byeong-gu's mind, but it certainly enables us to understand what has turned him into a dedicated defender of Planet Earth against an alleged invasion by aliens.

Enclosing an outstanding dramatic depth and complexity of its main character, a climax of great emotional impact that, in spite of less predictable outcomes, it is not submitted to the need to surprise the viewer at any cost, even at its inherent coherence's expense, Save the Green Planet!, has already made a stand as one of the more prominent titles in modern South Korean cinema. It's not good comedy, it's neither good science fiction nor good horror — it's just great cinema.


Limited Edition DVD.
(Click to open.)
Sitges 2003. The South Korean DVD (CJ Entertainment, R3) was first released in a limited edition which came inside a plain cardboard box displaying only the film's title. The box includes two DVDs (cover signed by the director), a CD with the original soundtrack — including the rock version of "Somewhere over the Rainbow" —, a strip with some frames of film and two curious assets, replicating those used by Byeong-gu: a small green glove and the special anti-alien liquid. These are two essential items for those wishing to be ready against possible alien threats. Anamorphic image, Dolby 5.1 and dts sound tracks. The video transfer reveals excessive brightness and contrast. Extras are not subtitled in English. There are more recent editions, such as Tartan's, in the UK, or Koch Lorber in the US. This one was released with two sleeves — “Tame” and “Torture” —, but the content should be exactly the same (there's no rated version in the US, as far as we could tell, so no cuts would be necessary).

14 Jan 05
(Original review 18 Apr 05)

Translated by Carla Graça

cinedie asia © copyright Luis Canau.