Save the Green Planet! (2003)
★★★★ / ★★★★
“Save the Green Planet!” can be described as “crazy,” “insane,” or “totally bonkers,” but none of these adjectives, individually or as a group, can fully describe the level of manic energy and visual creativity that writer-director Jang Joon-hwan manages to inject into his work. It is brazen in its liquid presentation: darkly comic by way of torture porn one minute, a nail-biting detective story the next, then it pivots to a melodrama of mental illness. It offers satirical elements, too, regarding conspiracy theorists, their habit of taking random or harmless information and shaping them into puzzle pieces that fit into their fantastic narratives. The film shouldn’t work, but it does. It is willing to make us laugh, terrify us, and offend even (or especially) the weak-hearted.
On the surface, it tells the story of a man on a mission to save the Earth from an alien invasion. Doing so requires him to kidnap the CEO of a chemical company whom he believes to be an alien leader from planet Andromeda. Byeong-gu (Shin Ha-kyun) is convinced that putting enough physical stress on Man-shik (Baek Yoon-sik) would inspire his prey to divulge information that could prevent an apocalypse. Upon closer inspection, however, the kidnapping plot sheds light on a tragic character, a person who has had such a hard life—bullied by peers and authority figures throughout his life—that saving the world becomes a metaphor. He hopes to save what he has left. And it is up to us to figure out what that is. To do so requires looking a terrorist in the eye and being open to what he has to impart. On this level, I found the screenplay to be brave.
Shin is required to deliver two performances. First is the seemingly harmless, friendly young man that the world sees and chews up from time to time. When he is beaten, he takes it. He is even apologetic for getting in the way. But on the inside, his anger brews. Second is the madman who has transformed an old bathhouse into his base of “operations,” thoroughly convinced of a looming extraterrestrial invasion. It is amazing how Shin is able to change not only his countenance from one precarious situation to the next but also the aura he evokes.
One part of us wishes to get to know Byeong-gu, that he is or can be a good person. Another part of us wishes for him to get caught because he is a menace to society. Here is a specimen worthy of putting under a microscope but one that proves to be a challenge to study because he is constantly on the move—unsurprising because he is addicted to methamphetamines. Detective Choo (Lee Jae-yong), with his keen sense of smell, manages to find methamphetamine pills lodged in between the cracks of a parking lot where Man-shik is last seen. A hotshot tyro inspector (Lee Ju-hyeon) offers his aid to the reclusive detective. Surely it is only a matter of time until Byeong-gu and Choo cross paths. But it will not unfold in the way it leads you to believe. The screenplay smirks at its sinister streak.
It is without question that the writer-director loves film as a medium. He doesn’t allow the camera to sit; he uses it as a device to communicate ideas beyond what our eyes see. And despite allusions to numerous classics, from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy” to Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Save the Green Planet!” possesses—and exercises—its own identity. It enmeshes itself in its eye-popping pandemonium, licking its blood during moments of deafening silence. Should you decide to see it, prepare for an experience.