***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras A
starring Shin Ha-gyun, Baik Yun-shik, Hwang Jung-min
written and directed by Jang Joon-hwan
by Walter Chaw The first third of hyphenate Jeong Joon-hwan's cinematic debut Save the Green Planet! (Jigureul jikyeora!) is sort of like Fargo if David Fincher had directed it, the second third like Sleuth if Terry Gilliam had directed it, and the final third like a mescaline hallucination, complete with a portly/heroic high-wire artist (Sooni (Hwang Jeong-min) and a swarm of murderous bees thrown into action by a jar of royal jelly. There's a crucifixion, entirely unspeakable and lawless references to 2001 and Blade Runner, and, without warning, a flashback to the unhappy childhood of our hero, Lee (Shin Ha-Kyun), composed with a lyrical sadness that brings a wholly-unexpected tear to the eye. Save the Green Planet! has been shot with scary confidence in a style long on provocative evocation and clarity and short on pyrotechnics for their own sake--something astonishing given that the plot revolves around alien invasion, gruesome torture, serial murder, corporate malfeasance, and Korea's tumultuous recent history. It's indescribable, is what I'm trying to say, but I do know that I was rapt through two screenings, seduced by its sprung logic and affected during its wordless epilogue of a child at play with his parents in a past unrecoverable full of light and love.
The picture opens with Lee and Sooni abducting corporate bigwig Kang Man-Shik (Baek Yun-shik) and strapping the unfortunate suit into a chair in order to aggressively torture him for the identity of his alien cohorts. It would appear that Lee believes (and Sooni believes in Lee's belief) that Kang is the spearhead of an alien invasion force from Andromeda and that the fact that Lee's mother's in a coma is partly attributable to their nefarious plans. With unconventional Inspector Chu (Lee Jae-yong) visiting Lee and Sooni's isolated, ramshackle hut unannounced for an overnight stay, Save the Green Planet! shifts from an asylum nightmare to a tit-for-tat cat-and-mouse and from there to what is either the extended hallucination of a madman and/or one of the most twisted and satisfying payoffs since the ending of Takashi Miike's Dead or Alive trilogy.
Wrapped up in this madness is an exceptionally human core--an affecting sympathy for the toll that violence and dehumanization takes on a victim and his loved ones. (Heady stuff for something so buoyant in tone.) When Kang finally breaks and begins telling Lee what Lee wants to know, director Jeong is careful to show all the items in Lee's torture chamber--the journals and books and videotapes--that Kang could have studied to confirm his torturer's fantasies. He's careful not to tip his hand until its epilogue, though, and while I never found the resolution to be in suspense, that may speak more to how I'm tipped (I had a hard time believing that the sadism in the film could point to any other conclusion) than to anything obvious in its execution. Save the Green Planet! isn't entirely successful, but at least its flaws are ambitious ones. Like a Stephen Chow film, it weaves elements of Western pop culture with Korea's uniquely courageous sensibilities, thus although much of it is vaguely recognizable, it's all been slightly perverted into something indescribably alien, undeniably cinematic, and, if you're wired for the surprising gore and the tonal shifts, pure delight.
Koch Lorber presents Save the Green Planet! on DVD in a popping, sparkling 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer remarkably free of edge enhancement (or really any digital artifacts). The accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (vastly preferable to the DD 2.0 stereo alternative) is nearly as insanely-informative as the film's visual sensibility. Recurring snippets of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" playing in the underscore of several scenes come through with crystal clarity, while a scene with a guy trying to shoot down a swarm of bees, one bullet at a time, zings across the discrete soundstage.
The disc is top shelf from start to finish. After the film, head over to "Deleted Scenes" (15 mins.), where the director introduces each cutting-room casualty at length. This is that rare instance of each omission seeming like a tragedy to me; there's a moment where "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" plays on a music box that lends extra depth to an already fulsome character, another featuring a different score that changes the entire meaning of a montage, and still another in which the discovery of something on the hostage causes Lee to worry that he's making another mistake (most of his victims--maybe all--are "not aliens" in the final wash because aliens wouldn't be so easy to torture to death). An "Interview with the Director" (6 mins.) finds Jeong--here displaying a nice self-effacing quality that doesn't quite jibe with the full-bore madness of Save the Green Planet!--at his desktop, going through his toys and the little things that fans of the film have sent to him. I searched, but saw no physical evidence of the Wizard of Oz mania suggested by Save the Green Planet!. Though it's not so much an interview as an impromptu monologue, it, too, is something of a revelation.
A fourteen-minute "Making of" incorporates more of this off-the-cuff session, during which Jeong reveals Misery as a primary inspiration--in that he wanted to tell the story from the Kathy Bates perspective. Sure enough. Jeong also delves into casting and other production errata, with B-roll and Save the Green Planet! clips interspersed throughout the piece. Indeed, it's more standard than the previous specials, but an unusually fruitful example of the form all the same--and it's particularly affecting when Jeong says that because it's his first film, he wasn't able to fully utilize his gifted cast, a perceived lack for which he feels a great deal of remorse. Humility? Almost forgot what that was.
A "Behind-the-Scenes Featurette" (13 mins.) is more B-roll with fawning narration that pegs it as filler, but a "Conversation Between Director and Actors" (11 mins.) returns the supplementary material to a more organic--and warm--rhythm. The success or failure of much of these features, you come to realize, is the extent to which they utilize Jeong. He's a charmer: bright, articulate, and humble; this marks one of the few times I've mourned the lack of a commentary track. The title of this segment is a little misleading, however, as it's actually fans conversing with the director. A Korean trailer is more "off" than the American correlative, though both highlight the pulp origins of the exercise. That being said, the U.S. trailer is predictably spoiler-heavy. King Joe's theme song for the flick gets the music video treatment herein, as well (2 mins.). Trailers for Lipstick & Dynamite, Divine Intervention, and 301/302 cue up automatically upon insertion of the disc. Originally published: November 3, 2005.