Save the Green Planet! is a Korean film that turned out different in certain respects from what I’d expected. In the little I’d read about it in advance, it was described as a very complex, offbeat “genre-bending” movie combining comedy, crime drama, science fiction, and I don’t remember what else.
So for one thing, I feared it would be obscure and artsy and overly clever, and that I’d be left utterly confused. But really it is not hard to follow the plot at all. It took a certain amount of concentration, but that was probably more a matter of dealing with subtitles than anything difficult about the movie itself.
And I was expecting all those various genres to be about equally represented, but they are not. The science fiction element is quite small. Really the only sense in which science fiction is part of the film is that the main character is operating under various elaborate delusions that if true and if made into a movie would be science fiction. There’s some ambiguity about that here and there, but for at least 95% of the film, there’s no hint of anything supernatural or science fiction-like outside the one character’s head.
I would say there’s also not much humor, except in the sense that really bizarre, unusual events with insane characters can have some inherent humor.
My first thought early in the movie was that it reminded me of The King of Comedy, in that it opens with two obviously unbalanced characters kidnapping and holding hostage a prominent person. But The King of Comedy plays its situations much more for laughs, so they’re really not that similar.
Instead, I’d say the closest American movie to this is Misery. Misery has some black comedy elements to it in the way the Kathy Bates character’s insanity manifests itself in her weird and inappropriate behavior, emotions, and speech, but it’s not primarily a comedy the way The King of Comedy is. Save the Green Planet! is more like that. It’s an intense thriller about a man held captive by lunatics, with occasional uneasy chuckles.
I’d say it’s somewhere between Misery and a conventional slasher movie. Misery has the one scene of the captive being crippled with a sledge hammer; Save the Green Planet! has quite a few scenes of comparable intensity and disturbing violence.
So though it has other elements to it, primarily it’s a crime drama about a drug-addled maniac being tracked by the police. Over the course of the movie, you gain more insight into this person’s delusions and mental illness and how they relate to his past, you follow the police investigation, and you observe the brutal interaction between the kidnapper (and his at least borderline retarded, worshipful and credulous, young girlfriend) and the kidnap victim, and the latter’s efforts to escape.
All three of these tracks are interesting to at least some degree. And I mostly liked the social and political commentary element near the end, as this individual’s insanity and violence are shown to stem from the abuse he’d suffered his whole life at the hands of bullies and other nasty folks, which in turn is related to the general political and economic oppression by irresponsible wielders of power that is bound to sometimes generate a blowback of one kind or another from the people whose lives it crushes.
There were also things I didn’t enjoy as much about the movie.
Though it wasn’t as baffling as I’d suspected going in, it was still more of a struggle for me to get through than the average movie. It’s close to two hours long. I know that’s not hugely long for a movie, but the average length of the (non-short) films I’ve written about so far here is maybe ninety minutes, and psychologically I’m probably pacing myself in a way as I watch them. So this seemed to drag on longer than I really wanted, especially when you add in that the subtitle factor means you need to sustain a higher level of concentration for that whole time period. So it was draining.
It also has the “too many peaks” problem I addressed in my essay about The Coast Guard, another Korean film. The individual fight scenes are too much like the “Peter Griffin versus the Chicken” Family Guy spoof, with way too much “he won; no, the other guy’s coming back and now he won; no, the first guy’s not really dead after all and now he won….” And the movie as a whole is that same phenomenon writ large. They’re on the verge of catching the guy; now they’re not; now they are; now they aren’t…. The captive’s escaping; no he’s not; yes he is; no he’s not….
Eventually these constant surprises and shifts of fortune cease to add to the suspense or intensity of the film and just become boring, because you know not to put any stock in what you’re seeing since it’ll be yanked away shortly anyway. Like the “crying wolf” phenomenon. Or like John Madden’s contention that double and triple reverses are poorly conceived plays: “What’s the point of trying to fool someone, and then trying to fool him back to where he started?” Movies like this are like octuple reverses—eventually the defense gets tired of chasing you around and just holds its position and waits for you to end the tomfoolery and run where you’re going to run.
(Of course, overdoing this stuff may have been intentional on the part of the filmmaker as a spoof. I noted that I didn’t see all that much humor in the film, but maybe this very aspect is one of the things people are talking about when they label this movie, in part, a comedy.)
The final plot twist is a definite disappointment, and indeed really quite silly. I’d had a feeling they might pull that, and they did. For my tastes, it’s better to just imagine the movie ends three minutes earlier.
So a mixed evaluation. I understood Save the Green Planet! and got into it probably more than I expected, but I wouldn’t rank it real high.