Director – Choi Dong-hoon – 2022 – South Korea – Cert. 12 – 142m
In Part One of a proposed double feature, aliens incarcerate prisoners in human brains and time travel between present day and fourteenth century Korea and mayhem ensures – from LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 3rd to Thursday, November 17th
The first film of a two part adventure, which would be more sensibly released as Alienoid – Part One (which may already be the case in some territories), this revolves around multiple protagonists in two separate timelines divided by six or seven centuries. In the fourteenth century, Guard, who morphs between true robot and fake human appearances not unlike the T-1000 of Terminator 2 Judgement Day (James Cameron, 1991), and his even more confusing companion Thunder, who is sometimes a car, sometimes a flying pod and sometimes any number of human manifestations (both / all played by Kim Woo-bin), fail to save a woman from dying after an alien escapes incarceration within her brain, however Thunder rescues the woman’s baby.
The pair travel forward in time to raise Lee Ahn (Choi Yu-ri) in the twenty-first century where she sees what she’s not supposed to: the impregnation process whereby alien prisoners are incarcerated in human brains, a memory wiped immediately afterwards from the humans used for this purpose, meaning people wander around not knowing there are aliens trapped inside their heads.
Where Guard and Thunder are responsible for seeing that those aliens imprisoned in human brains don’t escape, other parties are trying to free them from their fleshly jails. One of those impregnated is Detective Moon Do-seok (So Ji-sub) who has the misfortune to be the holding cell for ruthless rebel leader called The Collector, who the alien occupants of the space ship which is fast approaching twenty-first century Earth intend to liberate.
Meanwhile in the fourteenth century, Taoist acolyte Muruk (Ryu Jun-yeol from Little Forest, Yim Soon-Rye, 2018; A Taxi Driver, Hun Jang, 2017) attempts to eke out a living through bounty hunting before crossing paths with and trying to help the grown Lee Ahn (Kim Tae-ri from Little Forest, Yim Soon-Rye, 2018; 1987: When That Day Comes, Jang Joon-Hwan, 2017; The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook, 2016) now back in the fourteenth century where she’s known as The Woman Who Shoots Thunder on account of her carrying a handgun.
Both of them seek the Divine Blade, a powerful weapon against the aliens, as too do the Two Sorcerers of Twin Peaks, Madam Black (Yum Jung-ah from Intimate Strangers, Lee Jae-kyoo, 2018; A Tale Of Two Sisters, 2003) and Mister Blue (Jo Woo-jin from Kingmaker, Byun Sung-hyun, 2022; Collectors, Park Jung Bae, 2019; Default, Choi Kook-Hee, 2018; The Fortress, Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2017).
All of which ensemble cast furnishes writer-director Choi with the opportunity to choreograph an incredible series of action set-pieces in both fourteenth and twenty-first centuries as alien invasion movie jostles with supernatural period adventure. Hollywood SF influences are evident, not only the obvious blockbusters like Alien, The Terminator and Back To The Future but also Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers (Don Siegel, 1956).
Looking further afield, the madcap pacing and mayhem recalls classic supernatural action as made in its heyday by Hong Kong (Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain, Tsui Hark, 1983; Chinese Odyssey, Jeffrey Lau, 1995) – a field in which these days South Korean movies seem to be at the forefront, although there’s still the occasional Chinese animated blockbuster likeWhite Snake (Amp Wong, Ji Zhao, 2019) to give them a run for their money – and Japanese alien invasion SF (Battle In Outer Space, Ishiro Honda, 1959; Foreboding, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2017).
Unlike 1980s Hong Kong fare, where most if not all the effects were physical, Choi relies heavily on CGI effects (sadly unrepresented in currently available stills of the film, so the images here don’t convey any idea of that side of the movie). The production logistics of sheer volume of and reliance on CGI potentially brings its own problems, in terms of producing effects for their own sake and misjudging the physicality of things so that effects don’t quite feel real, yet to his credit Choi seems unlike so many directors to know how to handle this, how to push his effects technicians so that, for example, when six foot tendrils fly out of one character to attack another, they feel real and organic rather than unreal and digital. He relies on physical stunt and wire work too whereby characters fly through the air to battle one another and the execution of that (and there’s a lot of it) is both peerless and, like the CGI, highly effective.
The mixture of the two time zones is also pleasing. One man wanders round the fourteenth century in a wrecked twenty-first century suit, while The Woman Who Shoots Thunder has no problem deploying her handgun in a time when such things have not yet been invented. Large cars crash through wormholes Back To The Future style.
There’s no real interest on anything like a really serious, grown-up science fiction level in exploring what might happen if a person was taken from one time to another – the time travel here is more of an excuse for a fast moving and hugely entertaining, two time period romp. Choi is clearly enjoying himself and throws everything at his film; fortunately, he seems to possess some sort of coherent vision which means the pool of seemingly disparate parts comes together into a satisfying whole. An amazing genre-bender of a movie which deserves to be picked up for full UK distribution. Roll on Part Two.
Alienoid plays in LKFF, The London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 3rd to Thursday, November 17th.
LKFF 2022 Trailer:
LKFF 2022 Opening Night: Alienoid + Q&A
LKFF 2022 Closing Night: Hansan: Rising Dragon + Q&A
Special Focus: Kang Soo-yeon (includes free screening – booking essential)
Touring Programme (Glasgow, Manchester)