Sunday, March 4, 2007

Review of Save the Green Planet!

Within the first ten minutes of “Save the Green Planet!” it’s clear that director Joon-Hwan Jang shares with his protagonist, Lee Byeong-gu, an off-kilter insanity that is fascinating even while it disturbs.

Lee is a beekeeper, an eccentric inventor and a conspiracy theorist. He’s the type of ingenious crackpot who would be hopelessly endearing in the unlikely Hollywood remake. Looking disarmingly goofy in a homemade “alien-proof” combat suit, it is hard not to find him pathetically humorous as he kidnaps a chemical corporation’s CEO and accuses him of being an alien prince all within the opening scenes.

In truth, his comically twitchy performance is underscored by a darkly traumatized history and a reliance on illegally procured prescription drugs. Our sympathies start to shift away from Lee as his full pathology is unveiled by his sadistic use of cruel torture methods. Our laughter becomes a little bit uncomfortable. The imagery gets more intense and even queasy. Suddenly it seems as if a pair of mismatched oddball detectives may be the real protagonists and we start to root for them to catch the raving madman.

But then again… we learn a little about Lee’s past. It seems there might be more to this kidnapping then just some crazy theories about aliens. His victim, established as unsympathetic from the start, really seems to be a very unethical businessman. A legitimate revenge motive may be at the bottom of Lee’s obsessive psychotic drive.

But then again…

…and so it goes. The audience is never really sure where the truth lies and the slippery shifts in perspective aren’t limited to just the narrative: Jang uses so many genres that its difficult to define exactly what we’re watching. Without ever slacking the pace he pulls the carpet from under us in countless scenes where we had settled into a stable mood. Dark comedy is inserted into moments of tension; abrupt violence interrupts a cheerful monologue; unsettling documentary footage finds its way into a moment of exhilarating CG fantasy. Even the most experienced film aficionado eventually must cede control to Jang as he calls all the shots and takes the film to ever more unpredictable realms, continuing even as the credits roll.

Trying to capture the uniqueness is difficult. You get the post-modern audience-aware winking of Tarantino, but there is still emotional investment. You get the light-speed manic chaos of Steven Chow, but there is still underlying structure and depth. You get the formalized strangeness of David Lynch, but there is still absurdist fun.

Special attention must be given to the cinematography and effects. The spiraling inspired story and polished look sometimes overwhelm the characters and the performances rely more on broad physicality than timing and poise. Ultimately a fun and occasionally dumbfounding experience, “Save the Green Planet!” is best watched with a group in a festive mood.

Walrus Rating: 8.5
(Walrus’s Roommate’s Rating: 10!)

1 comment:

Mad Dog said...

Another movie I definitely must see. :3