- FILM & PEOPLE
- K-Cinema Library
SAVE THE GREEN PLANET
May 08, 2019
- Writerby Pierce Conran
2003 | 117 MIN | Comedy
DIRECTOR JANG Joon-hwan
CAST SHIN Ha-kyun, BAEK Yoon-sik, HWANG Jung-min
RELEASE DATE April 4, 2003
CONTACT CJ Entertainment
2003, considered by many to be the finest year for contemporary Korean cinema, produced an extraordinary array of modern classics that both turned the local filmmaking scene into a profitable industry and introduced Korea as a major player on the international film stage, yet no film was quite as unique and unlikely as JANG Joon-hwan’s madcap debut film Save the Green Planet. Though it was perhaps too daring and uncategorizable to connect with viewers at the time, this comedy-thriller-horror-social drama-sci-fi hybrid quickly established itself as a cult film, beloved both at home and overseas.
Byung-gu (SHIN Ha-kyun), a peculiar young man living in a house hidden in the mountains of Gangwon province, believes that aliens walk among us and have been carrying out experiments on the populace. With the help of his tight-rope walking girlfriend (HWANG Jung-min), he kidnaps the powerful Yoojae Chemical Company CEO Kang Man-shik (BAEK Yoon-sik), locks him in his basement and proceeds to torture him until he confesses to his real identity and purpose on Earth. Meanwhile, an investigation into Kang’s kidnapping and other similar crimes begins to close in around Byung-gu.
A year after appearing as the green-haired mute at the center of PARK Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), SHIN Ha-kyun cemented his status as a trop character actor with his manic performance as Byung-gu, a character who fuels his obsessions with methamphetamines and displays a proclivity for violence, which we discover is a learned behavior, acquired through years of beatings at the hands of equally violent authority figures.
With boundless imagination, director JANG threads together a dizzying array of ideas and genre codes, including but certainly not limited to torture porn, circus spectacle, space drama, tying them all together with a surprisingly empathic core that leans on basic melodramatic codes, themselves propped up by a decades-spanning examination of systemic trauma in modern Korean society.
JANG’s genre flexibility is matched by BURNING (2018) cinematographer HONG Kyeong-pyo’s lensing, which experiments with several lenses and techniques, and a score and soundtrack that explores a vast emotional canvas, from LEE Dong-joon’s poignant Byung-gu theme, to Transfixion’s punk ‘Over the Rainbow’ cover.
Screened this month at the Jeonju International Film Festival as part of a program celebrating 100 years of Korean cinema, Save the Green Planet has lost none of its ability to surprise. A similar film would be impossible in today’s Korean film industry, but JANG continues to weave together wide tapestries of ideas, most recently in his period political drama smash 1987: When the Day Comes (2017).