Contemporary Asian cinema encompasses long-take social dramas, stylishly abstract personal statements, hyperkinetic action movies, quietly creepy horror, and more, but under every category lies this sub-category: "Not as cool as it sounds." A lot of Japanese, Korean, Thai, Taiwanese, and Chinese films become cult favorites based on reputation, but their plot descriptions and best scenes don't account for the hour or so of dead time it often takes to get to the goods. Jeong Jun-hwan's Save The Green Planet is a rarity, in that it's actually cooler than it sounds—if "cool" is the right word for a movie which dedicates most of its first hour to the torture of a corporate executive in a mannequin factory. Mentally impaired Shin Ha-kyun kidnaps Baek Yun-shik, convinced the high-powered businessman is an infiltrator from the Andromeda galaxy, sent to destroy the Earth. With a high-tech miner's helmet on his head and a trash-bag smock around his torso, Shin looks like a harmless loony, right up to the moment that he strips the skin off Baek's feet and rubs in a stinging mentholated cream.
Save The Green Planet similarly looks kind of goofy until the violence starts, at which point it appears to be tonally off. But then two detectives start investigating Shin and turn up some disturbing facts about his past that deepen the movie's meaning. One of the detectives, Lee Jae-yong, shows up at the remote country house where Shin has Baek bound, and Save The Green Planet turns into a tense game of cat and mouse. Before it's over, the film becomes an Amélie-esque romance and a wiggy science-fiction head-trip, as it proceeds through a succession of astonishing setpieces that are simultaneously gruesome and gorgeous. Like Park Chan-Wook's Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, Save The Green Planet has a free-ranging mood, mixing tragedy and comedy irregularly, but Jeong's film is equally free with genre, and entertains its audience openly before pouring on the astringent.
Save The Green Planet has trouble coming up with a final 25 minutes as wild as its opening 90—the reverse of the "not as cool as it sounds" movies—but it has a strong ending, and its most memorable scenes are thematically rich. When a swarm of bees attacks Lee, his futile attempt to shoot them down one by one is funny, neat-looking, and symbolic of Shin's own efforts to save the Earth by torturing and killing its enemies one at a time. And how does he determine who the enemies are? Jeong gives the answer in a perversely beautiful montage of all the beatings Shin took growing up. In the end, Save The Green Planet is another stylishly violent Korean revenge thriller, but the victim—and the perpetrator—are humanity itself.