Save the Green Planet (Jang Jun-hwan). 116 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (July 22) at the Royal. For times, see Indie & Rep Film, page 92. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Be warned: this is a violent film. If you don't like violence, you won't like this. But if you can stomach scenes of abduction and torture played half for incredulous laughs (think Reservoir Dogs), the payoff is a brilliantly sustained tragicomic climax of reversals and revelations.
Lee Byeong-Gu ( Shin Ha-kyun ) is a beekeeper and mannequin-maker who shares a mountain bunker and a host of strange beliefs with his circus-performer girlfriend. Convinced that Lee's former boss, Kang Man-shik, is an alien from Andromeda bent on destroying the Earth, the couple kidnap and torture him in an effort to extract the Royal Genetic Code that will save the world. Meanwhile, two rebellious police officers investigate Kang's disappearance.
This film isn't exactly a comedy, so it's not suprising that it was was unsuccessfully marketed in Korea as such. At first, it plays like one, a queasy absurdist farce in which the joke is that Lee is crazy. But as the investigation continues and the details of his history emerge, the laughs take on a patina of hard-boiled sorrowful irony straight out of Raymond Chandler.
And by the fourth or fifth ending (at which point the credits are long over and you're still glued to your seat), you won't know what to call it. Thriller? Drama? Twisted? Stunning?