Saturday 21 June 2008

Save the Green Planet! (2003)

Ha-kyun Shin definitely plays some interesting characters. The first time I saw him was in Chan-wook Park's JSA: Joint Security Area as a North Korean soldier in a far more strange situation than just sentry duty in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea. That was in 2000 but he was back two years later in another Chan-wook Park movie, as the green haired deaf and dumb guy in Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, selling his kidney to try to save his sister. This time out he appears to be a demented loon, who believes that he's the only man who can save the planet from an imminent alien invasion from Andromeda.

He's Lee Byeong-gu and he believes that Man-shik Kang, the CEO of Yuje Chemicals and the son-in-law of the chief of police, is the leader of the alien conspiracy, the only one with royal genetic DNA code. At the next lunar eclipse, the alien prince will come from Andromeda, and that's only seven days away. Before that happens, he has to take him down to avoid a huge disaster and save the planet, so he kidnaps him. However this is hardly a ransom situation, Lee has his own motives and they're fashioned out of the logic of the truly insane.

What makes the kidnap situation so fascinating is that there develops a really strong dynamic between the kidnapper and the victim that really breaks new ground. We have no hero or villain here, but we do develop sympathy for both characters at different points on the story. Amazingly that sympathy moves back and forth with each unexpected twist, of which there are many. Sometimes we have sympathy for the young man whose life has gone from one horrific tragedy to another. Sometimes it's for the kidnap victim who is an arrogant and vicious man but a tough cookie that fights for everything he gets and has the intelligence to counter this insanity on its own terms.

There are other characters in the story too, though it's these two who dominate. Lee has a girlfriend who is a larger than life assistant and tightrope walker. He also has a dog called Earth who he feeds the remains of his victims. There are also two detectives investigating the disappearance of Man-shik Kang. Like so many films, there's the young and dedicated newbie and the old and established cop who knows it all. However this plays a little away from the cliches by making the newbie ignored and his mentor discredited and mostly gone. And the victim does so much of the work himself anyway.

The story is truly astounding, making leaps forward and sideways that we can't predict but always following some sort of logic. Somehow like the characters, this twisted plot refuses to die and it never ceases to amaze. This is astonishing cinema, that literally puts everything around it into a completely different perspective. Ha-kyun Shun is now firmly on my must track down list, and Yun-shik Baek has joined that list too. He plays a man who we initially believe to be a victim, but who steadfastly refuses to be such a thing, and he was wonderful as both halves of the character. How can you prepare for a part like this!?

Many of these actors have made very few films which presumably makes it easier to track down an entire career but more annoying because those careers add up to far too short a life's screen time. Lee's girlfriend Sooni is Jeong-min Hwang, who is a highly unlikely female lead and all the better for that fact and that she carries off her character joyously. This is one of only two films that she's made of hopefully many more to come. Jae-yong Lee impresses as the elder detective in one third of his three film career. As if to make this a series, Ju-hyeon Lee as the younger detective has made four.

The other name that really warrants huge attention though, along with Ha-kyun Shin and Yun-shik Baek, is Joon-Hwan Jang who wrote and directed this unique film. Just like both the kidnapper and the victim in this story refuse to play the roles they're given, neither does anything else. Everything breaks so far through the cliche barrier it leaves most of the rest of cinema way behind. This is stunning, awe inspiring stuff and I want to see more. However like most of his cast, Jang has a tiny filmography. Beyond writing and directing this film, he has a writing credit on a 1999 film called Phantom: The Submarine, with Joon-ho Bong, hardly a minor name. That's it. And that's a crime.

1 comment:

1minutefilmreview said...

Nice review Hal. We liked Shin Ha-Kyun characters in 'JSA' and 'Mr Vengeance' too.