Save The Green Planet Review
A graduate of the Korean Academy of Film Arts, director and screenwriter Jang Jun-hwan made his debut in 1995 with the short film 2001: Imagine, about a Korean man who believes himself to be the reincarnation of John Lennon. Reviewers and critics praised the short, with many proclaiming Jang Jun-hwan as a talent to watch. After this auspicious debut, Jun-hwan honed his skills by working as assistant director on Park Ki-yong's art-house drama Motel Cactus and penning the action-thriller Phantom: The Submarine. When it was announced that Jang Jun-hwan was developing his debut feature film, expectations were high, but few, if any, could have predicted the film that would result.
Save The Green Planet is the story of Byun-gu (Shin Ha-kyun), a not-so ordinary young Korean, who believes that the majority of the Earth's problems are caused by the interference of aliens from Andromeda. Believing that an Andromedian Prince is coming to destroy the planet during a forthcoming lunar eclipse, Byun-gu attempts to avoid the catastrophe with the assistance of his girlfriend, Su-ni (Hwang Jeong-min) by kidnapping Kang Min-shik (Baek Yun-shik), the CEO of the Yoojae Chemical Company, who Byun-gu believes is an alien in disguise.
The kidnapping attempt is successful, but while Byun-gu and Su-ni torture Kang Min-shik in order to uncover details of the alien plot, police detectives Inspector Choo (Lee Jae-yong) and Inspector Lee (Lee Ju-hyeon) are hot on their trail.
In recent years, many Korean films have combined different genres to produce fresh and interesting takes on old forms; Shiri was elevated above the level of most Asian action films by adding a twist of melodrama, while My Wife Is A Gangster achieved popular success by combining elements of gangster drama, action films and comedy. Save The Green Planet takes this mixing of genres to an entirely new level, as Jang Jun-hwan effortlessly combines elements of science fiction, horror, comedy, police drama, melodrama, social commentary and more into a seamless whole that almost defies categorisation.
As well as a genre-busting plot, the film also features strong characterisation. Byun-gu and Su-ni are suitably eccentric, but at the same time believable and sympathetic. The stock characters of the rookie cop and his surly seasoned-veteran mentor are also given fresh life in the form of Inspector Lee and Inspector Choo respectively. There are no real heroes or villains in Save The Green Planet, at least in the traditional sense, and Jang Jun-hwan successfully manages to shift the balance of the audience's sympathies from one character to another during the course of the film.
Lead actor Shin Ha-Kyun initially achieved stardom after appearing in the successful Korean drama Joint Security Area and went on to appear in other notable Korean films Guns and Talks and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance before agreeing to star in Save The Green Planet based purely on the strength of the script. Shin Ha-Kyun performs well in the difficult role of Byun-gu, which requires him to be comic, sympathetic and menacing by turns. The supporting players also turn in commendable performances and in fact Baek Yun-shik won the Best Supporting Actor award at Korea’s 40th Grand Bell Awards for his portrayal of Kang Min-shik.
Just as the plot and characters of Save The Green Planet are unusual, efforts have also been made to give the film distinctive sound and visuals. Whereas most Korean films rely on a minimal piano or acoustic soundtrack, Lee Dong-june provides an ersatz Hollywood-style orchestral score that sits well with the unusually sophisticated sound design, while rather than the naturalistic cinematography favoured by the majority of Korean filmmakers, Hong Gyung-Pyo gives Save The Green Planet a dark, green-tinted look similar to Delicatessen or The Matrix.
Jung Jun-hwan's debut feature film is incredibly accomplished and a true original. The closest comparison would be with the works of Terry Gilliam and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, as aside from the fact that Save The Green Planet combines science fiction with darkly comic elements, it also shares the theme of a conflict between fantasy and reality that occurs in much of Gilliam's work, as well as the eccentric characters, stylised visuals and inventive sound design that help to distinguish the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Despite being critically praised, Save The Green Planet was a box-office flop in South Korea, as audiences avoided the film's dark and depressive mood in favour of lighter comedies such as My Tutor Friend and My Teacher, Mr Kim. However, this has not prevented the film from gaining further acclaim at home and abroad and it has gone on to win three awards at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, three prizes at the Korean Grand Bell Awards, and a best director award for Jung Jun-hwan at the 25th Moscow International Film Festival.
Currently the film is only available as a limited edition release, with a standard version to follow. Both releases contain the same two-disc special edition of the film housed in a standard double amaray case. The limited edition comes with extra items housed in a surprisingly ordinary cardboard case.
The anamorphic transfer is detailed and colours are portrayed accurately, with the stylised green-tinted cinematography being particularly effective. The source print is almost completely unblemished, with just a few very minor print flecks making an occasional appearance, though there is a mild level of film grain in some of the darker scenes. The black level is strong, although there is sometimes a lack of shadow detail. White clipping is noticeable in some scenes, although this is usually present only in the background rather than on foreground objects and is possibly a deliberate part of the stylised look of the film.
The Korean language DTS soundtrack is superb, with excellent use made of the surround stage. Imaginative but appropriate use is made of the rears and the LFE. The DD5.1 mix is good also, but lacks the clarity, punch and greater separation of the DTS track.
The optional English subtitles are grammatically near perfect, with only a handful of minor errors. On-screen text is also translated where appropriate. The text is white with a black surround and remains clear and easy to read throughout the film. The timing of certain lines of dialogue could have been slightly improved, but otherwise the subtitles are excellent.
The menus are mainly static with transitional animations and are presented in a combination of English and Korean text.
Despite the film's relative failure at the Korean box office, CJ Entertainment have bestowed Save The Green Planet with an extremely impressive selection of in-depth bonus materials, though frustratingly none of these include subtitles of any kind.
Included on the first disc is a feature length commentary with director Jung Jun-hwan and lead actor Shin Ha-Kyun. The rest of the extra material is included on the second disc.
Selecting the Making of Save the Green Planet option from the main menu on the bonus disc reveals three sub-sections. The first of these contains eleven minutes of on-set footage with voice-over narration. The second contains a fourteen-minute featurette on the stunts in the film, and the third contains eleven brief interviews with various members of the crew, varying in length from around half-a-minute to two-and-a-half minutes.
Interview with the Aliens is itself divided into two sub-sections, one containing interviews with five cast members and the other with three members of the crew. The interviews vary in length from three-and-a-half minutes to seven-and-a-half minutes and are all interspersed with on-set footage.
Art of the Green Planet contains three individual segments covering the set design, CG special effects, and make-up and prosthetic effects. All three of these featurettes are around fourteen minutes in length.
Music from the Green Planet is a fourteen-and-a-half-minute interview with score composer Lee Dong-june, including relevant clips from the film and additional contributions from director Jung Jun-hwan.
The Preview section contains various items of promotional material produced for the film, including six-and-a-half minutes of footage and interviews filmed at the time of the movie's preview screening.
Also within the Preview section is a two-and-a-half-minute music video that consists of clips from the film livened up with pop-art graphics and accompanied by a pop-rap song that is not actually from the movie soundtrack.
The two minute-and-a-half trailers and the thirty-second TV spot all present the film in a false light by concentrating solely on its comedy aspects.
The nine Deleted Scenes all feature an introduction from the director explaining their removal from the finished film. Most of the scenes are extended rather than deleted scenes and have a run time of around a minute-and-a-half. The fifth deleted scene is longer, at around five minutes, and also more interesting as it includes a mini-storyboard-to-film comparison.
The Behind Story section contains three featurettes totalling at twenty-two minutes that cover the film's early development process. The first of these is the most interesting as it contains brief subtitled clips from the director's debut short, 2001: Imagine.
The section entitled X-File requires a four-digit password to be entered before granting access to pages from Byun-gu's file on the aliens. There are Easter eggs present on the disc that provide clues to the code, but the less patient may like to know that the password is 0404, the film's Korean release date.
The Su-ni character is a former circus performer and the segment titled Real Circus is a three-and-three-quarter minute featurette about the real-life circus that was used for some scenes in the film. Included are clips of performances from a number of the circus acts.
End Credits is a list of credits displayed over a three-minute montage of on-set footage.
Also hidden on the extras disc is a silly homemade animated short by the director called The Lazy Mirror. This may be available via an Easter egg, but can be accessed directly by playing title 48.
Limited Edition Extras
The Limited Edition release of Save The Green Planet comes with four accessory items, which are housed along with the DVD amary case within a rather plain-looking cardboard box.
The first extra item is the Original Soundtrack CD, which appears to be identical to the separate retail release. The soundtrack features twenty-two tracks and is forty-seven minutes in length. Most of the tracks are selections from Lee Dong-june's ersatz orchestral score, but also included are two versions of the film's borrowed theme song, Over The Rainbow, a rocky version performed by Transfixion and a more traditional arrangement with a vocal from Linda Eder.
Also included is a slice of film, some mentholatum rub and a viscose scrubbing towel. The latter two items are explained by their use in the film as instruments of torture.
Save the Green Planet is an incredibly accomplished debut that features a genre-busting storyline and strong characterisation coupled with interesting visuals and sound design. The film is sure to develop an international cult following as word-of-mouth spreads, but due to the film's idiosyncratic and unconventional nature, some may find it to be a film they admire rather than enjoy.
The DVD release from CJ Entertainment boasts a good transfer, great sound and a generous supply of in-depth extras.