Save The Green Planet Review
To look at Save the Green Planet, the poster, the smiling faces on the back of the box, you’d probably think it was a rather light hearted movie, in fact probably some kind of zany comedy. Also, the most common word I’ve seen used to describe the film is “strange” and here I was assuming that meant funny-strange, when actually it just means plain strange, because Save the Green Planet is probably unlike any film you’ve ever seen.
Byun-gu (Shin Ha-kyun) isn’t like most people, his belief in aliens makes him strange, sure, but there are a lot of people that believe in extra-terrestrial life. There are even a few that are pretty sure they’ve been to our planet - as Byun-gu does - maybe even moving amongst us as we go about our lives, but what most of those people lack is Byun-gu’s need to do something about it. See, he hasn’t just been watching The X-Files and taking paranoid notes, oh no, instead he’s devoted himself to researching the aliens amongst us, and he’s uncovered some rather scary facts. A super-race of aliens from Andromeda are here, and they’re plotting something. At the next full moon, they’re going to attack, and it could signal the end of the human race. It’s time for someone to stand up and do something about it, and that someone is Byun-gu, he’s identified one of the aliens, and he needs him (as a member of the Andromedan royal family) to contact the prince who is leading the attacks and call it off. It’s Earth’s only hope for survival. Of course, that’s if you believe Byun-gu, everyone else seems to think this member of Andromedan royalty is actually just a rather important businessman, who’s plans of world domination extend no further than making an awful lot of money. But what do they know, those Andromedans are sneaky, that’s why Byun-gu is going to have to kidnap this one, kidnap and torture him, to make him reveal the details of his plan, there’s a planet at stake after all.
It’s often hard to pin movies down to a genre, many span more than one, but few cover as many as Save the Green Planet. It does manage to begin in the zany way the box suggests, Byun-gu seems amusingly crazy, in that harmless X-Files geek way, with his stories of Andromedans, accompanied by a - let’s say interesting - rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ in a punk-pop style everything is light-hearted and funny. His soon-to-be abductee, Kang Man-shik (Baek Yun-shik), arrives home blind drunk and abusing his driver, he’s a pompous ass we don’t mind getting kidnapped, well, until we see what he’s going to be treated to. It’s hard to think of anyone that deserves this kind of treatment, if it wasn’t bad enough being strapped in a basement, stripped to your boxers and having your head shaved, to have skin flayed from your feet just because you won’t contact your Andromedan superiors is a little harsh. And that’s far from the worst of the of punishments Man-shik receives for his lack of co-operation, he’s burnt, beaten, drugged, stabbed and... well, I’ll leave some surprises, but suffice to say, it’s not pretty. All a bit of a turnaround from where we began, but there are many more changes in the pace of the movie as it goes along. As Man-shik is rather an important guy quite a number of police officers are assigned to locating him, and so the film becomes a cop thriller, with a previously disgraced police inspector - who is in possession of an incredible sense of smell, which naturally is key to solving the case - and the rookie that’s idolised him since the academy reluctantly team up to solve the case. Already Save the Green Planet has covered a lot of bases, but the list goes on, incorporating fantasy, romantic, and martial arts elements, to create a movie that defies categorisation.
One thing that is simple to define about the movie though, is that it’s hard to watch. Between the switching genres and the often graphic violence, it takes a toll on the viewer, and even though there are lighter hearted moments, the over-riding feel in one of menace, as you watch poor Byun-gu’s mind unravel, then tie itself into fresh deluded knots and unravel again. What will surprise are the reasons behind Byun-gu’s madness, he didn’t just fall over the edge, he was pushed, and his torturous rampage is his way of lashing out at the world that has treated him so unfairly. You’ll find yourself laughing with him, then urging him to get caught, before sympathising with him for all he’s been through, and then condemning his horrible methods, so your sympathies and allegiances with the characters will switch just as often as Save the Green Planet jumps between genres. This could be why the film didn’t do very well upon its theatrical release in Korea, despite receiving good reviews, this really isn’t a movie for everyone, but if you’ve enjoyed dipping your brain in the paranoid madness of Terry Gilliam, the gothic strangeness of Tim Burton or even the low tech horror and plain weirdness of David Cronenberg you’ll probably find yourself up to the challenge of Save the Green Planet, but then it switches styles so often you could probably compare it to everything in some part, yet nothing overall. For a directorial debut it’s incredibly accomplished, and while the extra features make it clear that Jang Jun-hwan assembled a fantastic team to help him bring his vision to the screen, it’s also clear that this is his vision, and it’s not easy to keep this kind of impressive scope in focus.
Save the Green Planet is a film that begs to be discovered, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, in fact it probably won’t be most people’s, it’s strange, it’s intimidating, and it’s often hard to watch - both because of its graphic violence and its complex style - but it’s got cult classic written all over it, and there will be many looking forward to anything Jun-hwan brings us after this. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.
The Picture and Sound
Once again Tartan have managed to mar an otherwise excellent transfer with an NTSC to PAL conversion, and once again I’m left bemused as to why. Well, I say that, but it’s more than likely just the cheapest option, and most people are unaware of the effects so why not do it? Although I didn’t find it as noticeable as their last release I looked at, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, there is again clearly ghosting caused by the conversion that gives the image a slightly jerky nature, and it’s one of those things that’s hard to stop noticing once you’re aware of it. Again it’s a shame because the transfer is otherwise excellent, and it isn’t an easy film to transfer as the colour palette is particularly rich and often overly saturated, not to mention the need for really solid blacks and huge amounts of detail that are present in Byun-gu’s crazy home, all of which are fantastically captured by this transfer. It’s impossible to give it a top score though, simply because of the ghosting. It’s starting to become difficult to find a Tartan release that doesn’t come with a DTS soundtrack, they’re really throwing themselves behind the format at the moment, and with releases like this it’s easy to see why, as Save the Green Planet sounds fantastic. The manic style of the movie is often matched by the soundtrack, making this a real workout for your speakers, switching deftly between subtle moments with fantastic precise effects, to huge overblown sub-worrying moments, making it a joy to listen to.
Commentary from Director Jang Jun-hwan and Shin Ha-Kyun
Once again Tartan have provided us with a commentary track, offered in Korean with English subtitles, showing they really have committed themselves to bringing us everything from the Korean release. The two have obviously become good friends and are having a great time here, it’s often difficult to put emotion to disembodied voices in foreign languages, but it’s clear here from the large amount of laughter going on what kind of mood these guys are in.
Behind the Scenes
This documentary - in 8 parts - covers just about everything you’d want to know about the making of the film, and is one of the most impressive documentaries I’ve seen on a foreign language title. In depth discussions with the set designers, composers, even the owners of the circus where the filmmakers found the stunt double for Su-ni’s character, are interviewed. The circus portion, despite being one of the strangest features I’ve seen lately, is fantastic to watch, as although the circus lacks the grandeur you’re used to seeing (even in a cheap circus) the performers are incredible, though it’s strangely heart-breaking to see them performing in such an unimpressive environment. Other sections focus on the stunts of the movie - which really took their toll on the stunt people, and look much more painful when you see the unedited footage, particularly of the nasty tumble down a steep rocky slope that some poor stuntman really drew the short straw on. What is interesting is the attitude the actors have towards their stunt people, the starts are all hugely thankful and humbled by the work of their stunt people, in one case even inviting them out for a drink to thank them, it’s an intriguing cultural difference that I’m sure many stuntmen in the west would be happy to see adopted. I was most intrigued by the art department’s segment here, the detail that went into their drawings and models is staggering, and the film owes so much to their commitment, making Byun-gu’s world believable isn’t an easy task but their attention to the minutiae of the design has brought his world alive, and they seem (rightly) very proud of their work, often pointing out details that you probably wouldn’t have noticed during the film. Strung together this makes for a feature length look behind the scenes of the movie, and is genuinely interesting from start to finish, your average Hollywood blockbuster could learn a lot from presentation like this.
Rather than scene deletions these are largely extended versions of scenes already in the film, though it is understandable that there wasn’t much that could be removed from the movie, but it is still a long film so things were probably trimmed as much as possible to keep the running time down. Totalling almost 15 minutes there are a few things worth mentioning here, after all who wouldn’t want some extra limb removal to be included in the features, and one of the scenes is also presented in storyboard form as it was never completed.
The Lazy Mirror - A Short Film by Jang Jun-hwan
This simple short is a stop motion animation about a dancing wire figure, and as such was a bit of a disappointment. IT was present on the Korean release as an easter egg, which is probably better than labelling it as an extra feature, as it isn’t really what you’d expect from the director, it’s still a nice inclusion, I’m all for putting things like this onto DVDs as there really isn’t another place you can find them, but don’t get too excited about it.
Quite a number of the cast are interviewed, as well as the director, and a number of other directors at the movie’s premiere, though Jun-hwan talking us through all the mementoes he snagged from the production is probably the most entertaining, the disc manages to break the mould by asking Shin Ha-kyun, Hwang Jung-Min and Pack Yoon-Sik to answer videotaped questions posed by members of the movie’s fan club (I told you it had cult movie written all over it) and these manage to keep it from being the dull collection of back-patters you’ll find on most western movie releases, even if they aren’t always the best questions, it’s great to see them trying something different.
Save the Green Planet is a great film, quirky doesn’t go far enough to describing it, and it really is something that has to be experienced to be understood. Fans of the weirder side of cinema should be happy with this one, but it still requires a strong constitution. The DVD is great, Tartan have taken the great - but subtitle free - extras of the Korean special edition and brought them to the English speaking world, making for hours of added value to tempt those curious about the movie, so despite my reservations about the NTSC to PAL conversion, I have to say that at the moment, this is really the release to go for.