[Marxism] Save the Green Planet

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Mar 23 11:04:27 MST 2005

"Save the Green Planet" (Ji-gu-reul ji-kyeo-ra!) is a grand guignol comedy 
that evokes "Silence of the Lambs." The kidnapping victim in this instance 
is a powerful Korean chemical factory owner who we first meet as he 
stumbles drunkenly out of his limousine in a basement garage only to 
encounter a young man and woman in what appears to be Halloween costumes 
fashioned after 1950s outer space movies and consisting of construction 
hard-hats with tiny rotating antennas, yellow rubber boots, silver-colored 
vinyl ponchos, etc.

When the startled businessman demands to know what they are up to, the 
young man, who is named Lee Byeong-gu (Ha-kyun Shin), announces that they 
are there to save the planet earth from him. Byeong-gu has convinced 
himself that the industrialist Kang Man-shik (Yun-shik Baek) is the leader 
of a conspiracy directed from the planet Andromeda to take over the earth. 
Only Byeong-gu and his girl-friend Sooni (Jeong-min Hwang), a homely 
professional tightrope walker hopelessly in love with him, have discovered 
the secret plan. It soon becomes clear that Sooni puts up with his 
delusions because she is hopelessly in love with him.

After subduing the powerfully built but still drunk businessman, the two 
kidnappers spirit him away to their mountain-top hideout. The first thing 
on the agenda is to cut off his hair since Byeong-gu has convinced himself 
that the space aliens can communicate to their mother-ship through their 
hair. Sooni's reaction to her boyfriend's bizarre revelations is always an 
open-mouthed "oh" followed by a wide smile. Desperate to retain his 
affections, she will believe anything he says or at least pretend that she 

Although the film starts off on a rollicking comic note that suggests 
Scorcese's "King of Comedy," it soon becomes very dark as Byeong-gu submits 
the businessman through a series of "tests" to prove that he is really from 
outer space. They amount to the kinds of tortures used to extract 
confessions from witches or Jews in the middle ages.

Although your sympathies are with the kidnapping victim forced to put up 
with this ordeal, you still manage to empathize with Byeong-gu. We discover 
that his mother is in a long-term coma, the result of an industrial 
accident caused presumably by unsafe conditions in Kang Man-shik's factory 
where she worked. His father was a coal miner who died in a cave-in. 
Beyong-gu is a perpetual victim himself of Korea's cruel social and 
economic realities. In high school, he is stripped and beaten before his 
classmates after coming late to school. When he becomes a factory worker 
himself, he is treated to a new round of indignities until finally snapping.

Cinematically, "Save the Green Planet" is a tour de force mixing in 
slapstick comedy, animation, send-ups of 1950s science fiction movies and 
clever references to a wide variety of more recent films, including a 
hilarious homage to Kubrick's "2001".

Although you are initially convinced that the antihero is quite mad, the 
stunning apocalyptic conclusion of this 2003 film leaves open the 
possibility that sinister forces really are at work to destroy the planet. 
Whether they are being mounted by space aliens or by the capitalist class 
is left open.

"Save the Green Planet," directed by Jun-Hwan Jeong, joins a number of 
other brilliant Korean films that I have seen over the past 3 years or so. 
It would appear that semiperipheral countries such as Korea, Brazil, 
Argentina and Turkey are in the forefront of film art today. With their 
combination of ready investment capital, the result of uneven economic 
development, and a cadre of politically and artistically inspired directors 
and screenwriters, these countries can teach Hollywood a lot.

This is especially true in light of a review of two recent books on the 
Hollywood film industry that appeared in the March 20, 2005 NY Times 
review. Tom Shone's "Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying 
and Love the Summer" and Edward Jay Epstein's "The Big Picture: The New 
Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood" both describe a Hollywood more 
interested in profits than art.

Of particular interest is Epstein's discovery that studios "are not so much 
makers of movies as they are clearinghouses, collecting money from a 
hundred enterprises associated with any given film and then parceling it 
out to an army of participants and investors. Those Monday morning 
box-office figures we hear every week suddenly feel as phony and naïve as 
the Oscars."

One can easily connect this decline with every other symptom of imperialist 
decline in the United States. As it progresses inexorably toward the same 
kind of dotage that finally met the British Empire, it would seem that the 
only thing that this country is good at is killing people--but only from a 
safe distance.

(I watched a critic's VHS screener of "Save the Green Planet" and am not 
sure when it will open in NYC, or even if it has already appeared. When I 
receive schedule information from the distributor, I will pass this on. 
This is an amazing film.)

Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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