Save the Green Planet


Posted to on March 23, 2005


"Save the Green Planet" (Ji-gu-reul ji-kyeo-ra!) is a grand guignol comedy that evokes "Silence of the Lambs." The kidnapping victim in this instance is a powerful Korean chemical factory owner who we first meet as he stumbles drunkenly out of his limousine in a basement garage only to encounter a young man and woman in what appears to be Halloween costumes fashioned after 1950s outer space movies and consisting of construction hard-hats with tiny rotating antennas, yellow rubber boots, silver-colored vinyl ponchos, etc.


When the startled businessman demands to know what they are up to, the young man, who is named Lee Byeong-gu (Ha-kyun Shin), announces that they are there to save the planet earth from him. Byeong-gu has convinced himself that the industrialist Kang Man-shik (Yun-shik Baek) is the leader of a conspiracy directed from the planet Andromeda to take over the earth. Only Byeong-gu and his girl-friend Sooni (Jeong-min Hwang), a homely professional tightrope walker hopelessly in love with him, have discovered the secret plan. It soon becomes clear that Sooni puts up with his delusions because she wants to placate him.


After subduing the powerfully built but still drunk businessman, the two kidnappers spirit him away to their mountain-top hideout. The first thing on the agenda is to cut off his hair since Byeong-gu has convinced himself that the space aliens can communicate to their mother-ship through their hair. Sooni's reaction to her boyfriend's bizarre revelations is always an open-mouthed "oh" followed by a wide smile. Desperate to retain his affections, she will believe anything he says or at least pretend that she does.


Although the film starts off on a rollicking comic note that suggests Scorcese's "King of Comedy," it soon becomes very dark as Byeong-gu submits the businessman through a series of "tests" to prove that he is really from outer space. They amount to the kinds of tortures used to extract confessions from witches or Jews in the middle ages.


Although your sympathies are with the kidnapping victim forced to put up with this ordeal, you still manage to empathize with Byeong-gu. We discover that his mother is in a long-term coma, the result of an industrial accident caused presumably by unsafe conditions in Kang Man-shik's factory where she worked. His father was a coal miner who died in a cave-in. Beyong-gu is a perpetual victim himself of Korea's cruel social and economic realities. In high school, he is stripped and beaten before his classmates after coming late to school. When he becomes a factory worker himself, he is treated to a new round of indignities until finally snapping.


Cinematically, "Save the Green Planet" is a tour de force mixing in slapstick comedy, animation, send-ups of 1950s science fiction movies and clever references to a wide variety of more recent films, including a hilarious homage to Kubrick's "2001".


Although you are initially convinced that the antihero is quite mad, the stunning apocalyptic conclusion of this 2003 film leaves open the possibility that sinister forces really are at work to destroy the planet. Whether they are being mounted by space aliens or by the capitalist class is left open.


"Save the Green Planet," directed by Jun-Hwan Jeong, joins a number of other brilliant Korean films that I have seen over the past 3 years or so. It would appear that semiperipheral countries such as Korea, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey are in the forefront of film art today. With their combination of ready investment capital, the result of uneven economic development, and a cadre of politically and artistically inspired directors and screenwriters, these countries can teach Hollywood a lot.


This is especially true in light of a review of two recent books on the Hollywood film industry that appeared in the March 20, 2005 NY Times review. Tom Shone's "Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer" and Edward Jay Epstein's "The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood" both describe a Hollywood more interested in profits than art.


Of particular interest is Epstein's discovery that studios "are not so much makers of movies as they are clearinghouses, collecting money from a hundred enterprises associated with any given film and then parceling it out to an army of participants and investors. Those Monday morning box-office figures we hear every week suddenly feel as phony and na´ve as the Oscars."


One can easily connect this decline with every other symptom of imperialist decline in the United States. As it progresses inexorably toward the same kind of dotage that finally met the British Empire, it would seem that the only thing that this country is good at is killing people--but only from a safe distance.


"Save the Green Planet" opens at NYC's Film Forum on April 20.