Friday, 25 February 2011

Save the Green Planet!

Scriptwriter and director Jang Joon-hwan first made a name for himself with his 1995 short film 2001: Imagine and in 2003, he directed his first full-length feature Save the Green Planet!. Although the film failed to have an impact on the box office, it came highly recommended by the few moviegoers and critics who did decide it was worth a watch. I admit that I to came across this film as a recommendation, and to be quite honest, I am still on the fence about it.

The Story and Characters

Sin Ha-gyoon stars as Lee Byeong-gu, a disturbed and manic individual who lives isolated from society, and rightfully so. Sin Ha-gyoon has done the research and he has reached the conclusion that the head of a large conglomerate (Kang Man-shik played by Baek Yun-shik) is actually an alien spy soon to meet up with his prince from the Andromeda galaxy. This meeting cannot take place, according our deranged hero, as the result would be highly undesirable—the total destruction of Earth!

With the help of his passive and abiding girlfriend, Byeong-gu (sporting special anti- mind reading headgear) successfully manages to kidnap Man-shik and drags him to his dark underground lair. Byeong-gu’s house was once a mine but now serves as his personal headquarters/workshop. Here he gets down to business and violently tortures Man-shik for information and a confession. Despite Byeong-gu’s painstaking efforts, Man-shik reveals nothing and adamantly denies being an extra-terrestrial.

Save the Green Planet! manages to do a number of things rather well, most notably the acting and characters themselves. Byeong-gu’s disturbed mind and eccentricities are whimsically portrayed. His emotional instability and radical choices make for uncomfortable viewing. Even with the other actors, we are never quite sure whom to side with. Even when we think we do, the characters’ actions pull us back and we are forced to distance ourselves once again.

This plays into the director’s skilful manipulation of the audience and the viewers’ identification with the characters. The dissociation I felt was not through a lack of empathy, but a result of the judgements I made of the character’s actions.  Horrified then sympathetic, understanding then annoyed. These periodic shifts, while definitely disconcerting, are not to the film’s detriment. It was fascinating to step back only to find myself suddenly reimmersed in another direction. And with the story being as outlandish as it is, to create such shifts requires balancing the characterisation and plot events very carefully.

Final Thoughts

If you walk away from this film with mixed emotions, you are not alone. The films climax is hard and sharp, and there is not much in the way of a cathartic denouement. With no ‘cooling-off’ screen time to let things soak in, you might find yourself pondering, almost catatonically, at the films abrupt final happenings. Save the Green Planet! was not a commercial success and I can understand why. It is a film that is, technically, well constructed and its characters fit neatly into the depicted events. Maybe then, when held against the template of commercial cinema, Save the Green Planet! protrudes a little too much for its own good. Still the experience was, by and large, an enjoyable one.

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