Save The Green Planet (지구를 지켜라!, Jang Joon-hwan: 2003)

Byung-gu believes that aliens reside on earth and that they are responsible for all the problems on the planet. He decides that the wealthy and successful businessman Kang Man-shik is a top alien and so, along with his girlfriend Sooni, he kidnaps the man in the hope that he will allow them to speak to the Alien Prince of Andromeda. When Man-shik responds with confusion at his being kidnapped and doesn’t tell them what they want to hear, Byung-gu is already prepared. To save the planet he will torture the truth out of the man…

For some reason I originally thought that Save The Green Planet was a ‘crazy’ comedy. The film’s colourful posters and adverts all depict Shin Ha-Kyun smiling like a moron and even from looking at the dvd case I was still expecting something possibly Stephen Chow-like. The film flopped on its release in Korea, and it’s commonly assumed that it was this marketing that was to blame – this is very possibly true because the marketing couldn’t be more misleading, although it’s certainly a difficult one to get across. Save The Green Planet is partly a comedy – and yes, it has some brilliantly funny scenes – but it has its moments of being quite nasty. Actually at times it’s very nasty. Think Reservoir Dogs meets Men In Black and that’s still only part-way to describing this amazing film.

So from the outset of Save The Green Planet know that Kang Man-shik isn’t a very nice character. He’s a wealthy businessman who refuses to pay the driver the whole cost of the trip home, and he’s very drunk and leery. When Byung-gu and his girlfriend Sooni arrive wearing their ridiculous costumes and accusing him of being an alien from the planet Andromeda we’re fairly convinced that Byung-gu’s got a screw loose. The rich man seems to be an arse, not an alien. After a struggle, a kidnapping and one shaven head later (all in the first twenty minutes or so), Save The Green Planet slows down just for a second, long enough for us to wonder just what the hell is going on here. To reveal anything that happens next would be unfair as the narrative spins off in all sorts of bizarre and brilliant ways. To call this off-beat is an understatement. What follows is part cop movie, part romance, part science fiction, part – well it’s hard to think of a film genre that isn’t in some way injected into the mix. There’s even a short martial arts fight scene! How the hell director Jang Joon-hwan manages to shoe-horn all of these elements in is pretty astounding. (A quick warning to anyone squeemish: one of the most surprising elements of the film is the violence – this film does get fairly nasty just when you’re not expecting it.)

As surprising as the film is, what is the biggest surprise is how well it all actually works together. You’re never quite sure who the victim is in the film, and there’s a strange attraction to all of the main characters. There’s no real un-likeable characters here, you like them all – which is unusual considering several of them perform some horrible torture and violence.

I certainly wasn’t expecting it, but I was completely blown away by Save The Green Planet. The fact that this is a film from a first-time director is gob-smacking. With the majority of films you get to a point where you know roughly what will happen heading towards the end – I didn’t when I was watching this film. The film’s cast can not be praised highly enough – especially the two central performances from Shin Ha-kyun and Paek Yun-sik. Ha-kyun takes that stupid grin from the film’s poster and turns it into a character of its own. In an amazing performance he manages to mix violence and anger with a genuine warmth and sympathy. The fact that Paek manages to match Shin’s powerhouse performance is a sign of just how good this film is. As the tortured businessman he manages to convince that he is a complete and rounded character – yes he’s a bastard, but his sheer ‘hard-headedness’ is impressive. Also, worth a mention is Hwang Jeong-min as the simple girlfriend Sooni. It’s a role which is tiny in size but she manages to make a large impact.

Have I gushed on about this enough? After multiple screenings the films still stands up – it’s a film which virtually demands several viewings. I could keep going on about the cinematography, script and soundtrack all day – but I won’t.
I loved Save The Green Planet, it’s one of the most surprising films I’ve ever seen and although it won’t be to everyone’s taste (if you can’t stand violence then steer clear) it’s worth a look for anyone who likes something a bit different. If you do see it, you’ll never hear the song ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ in the same way again.
See it!

지구를 지켜라! (Save The Green Planet)
Directed by Jang Joon-hwan
Produced by Tcha Sung-jai, no Jong-yun
Written by Jang Joon-hwan
Starring Shin Ha-Kyun, Paek Yun-sik, Hwang Jeong-min, Lee Jae-yong, Lee Ju-hyeon

Save The Green Planet Image © Sidus