Save the green planet! Why Ari Aster is Remaking a Korean Sci-Fi Comedy

Nick Chen addresses rumors that the American director is remaking Jang Joon-hwan’s 2003 sci-fi comedy about aliens conspiracy theories

When Titanic was a blockbuster freak in 1997, he spawned a star in Leonardo DiCaprio — and also a rumored freak. In response to Titanic, an anti-Leonardo DiCaprio website claimed that the actor is actually an alien trying to take over Earth by having sex with the planet’s female population. As of 2022, the blog post no longer exists, nor does the original conspiracy theory (we now know that DiCaprio wouldn’t sleep with women over 25). It did, however, inspire South Korean filmmaker Jang Joon-hwan to write and direct Save the green planet!a 2003 comedy that could well become a 2024 comedy, should Ari AsterRemake plans are coming to fruition.

In 2020, Aster and Lars Knudsen have announced that their production company, Square Peg, is collaborating with CJ Entertainment, the studio behind Parasiteto redo Save the green planet! for modern audiences. According to the press release, Jang will direct from a script written by Succession writer Will Tracy, and, by Aster, the updated version in the United States “will reflect the messiness of today’s world”. Could it feature DiCaprio as an alleged alien? Maybe Cousin Greg? Two years later, we are still waiting for an update.

In the meantime, Jang’s original Save the green planet! is a riot genre mashup worth your time. Accompanied by a punk cover of “Over the Rainbow,” the opening credits establish what’s to come: a raucous show of cinematic tropes. Here, DiCaprio’s figure is Kang Man-shik (Yun-shik Baek), a wealthy and suited CEO who is captured by Lee Byeong-gu (Shin Ha-gyun), an incel-ish beekeeper who is convinced that Kang is a alien from the planet Andromeda. If Lee is correct, Kang’s Andromedan companions plan to exterminate the human race in order to save planet Earth from the humans themselves. Hence the underlying gag: even in Lee’s logic, humanity is the bad guy fighting global warming.

What distinguishes Save the green planet! of, say, other goofy bullshit theorizing that wealthy businessmen are secret Martians is Jang’s sparse approach to tone. One scene might be a painfully heartfelt, dialogue-driven reveal of Lee’s tragic background, the next might be an animation, 2001– referencing a flashback featuring dinosaurs or a musical interlude involving Lee’s circus-playing girlfriend. Also intercut is a shocking subplot about detectives suspecting Lee of the kidnapping. As a swarm of bees commits a giallo-style cinematic murder, you half wonder if Jang is treating the film as a show for his versatility.

Even then, nothing can prepare viewers for the detour through torture porn. Imprisoned by Lee, Kang is tied up and experimented on, with his three weak spots supposedly being his feet, his eyes, and between his legs. With Kang shaved, electrocuted, and repeatedly questioned about his UFO philosophy (which he denies through tears of pain), it’s obvious we’ve witnessed this dynamic before, just in reverse. In an interview with The voice of the villageJang cited two basic ideas: “this anti-DiCaprio website” and telling Misery from the kidnapper’s point of view.

Without surprise, Save the green planet! was a box office flop, both in South Korea and overseas. Sympathize with an anti-hero? In 2003? On this planet? But any fan of AsterMovies should be open-minded. Take Hereditary, a global hit starring Toni Collette as a mother who says to her son, “All I get is that fucking face on your face.” Or Midsommara relationship drama that has audiences cheering when Florence Pugh’s Dani chooses to watch her boyfriend burn alive.

In fact, in a 2019 IndieWire characteristic, Aster specifically named Save the green planet! as the main source of inspiration for Midsommarthe breathtaking conclusion. He explained, “There are so many South Korean movies that have come out in the last 20 years…I love how they juggle the tones.”

As Asterthe two released feature films (and, allegedly, his upcoming Boulevard of disappointment.), Save the green planet! is a bloody, messed up, utter genre extravaganza with family trauma at its heart. In homemade protective gear that’s a slightly more advanced version of wrapping himself in foil, Lee looks comically absurd – more SNL than Spielberg. But Shin imbues so much seriousness into the ridiculous dialogue that you accept the chaos. And, of course, Lee’s gory story is shrouded in so much nonsense that it doesn’t quite resonate like Dani losing her parents and sister before. Midsommar’s opening credits, but that explains a method to the film’s madness.

Kang owns Yuje Chemicals and Lee’s mother, an employee of the pharmaceutical company, was poisoned and has been in a coma for years. Additionally, Lee was beaten by teachers, his father was abusive, and during a time in prison he was assaulted further. To ease the pain, Lee turned to conspiracy theories. At the time, there was no Joe Rogan podcast, so he opted for the next best thing: choosing to believe that the man responsible for his mother’s impending death is a UFO.

Maybe, then, Save the green planet! really needs a modern update. In 2003, writing online that DiCaprio is a dangerously sexy alien was a funny blunder; today could be QAnon’s last tweet. And, if DiCaprio is involved in the new version, the actor could come full circle on his Titanic days, satirizing the alien nature of fame and the self-righteous element of its Don’t look up press tour. Besides, a remake may seem illogical, but so does the original film. As Aster noted when presenting Jang’s science fiction at a 2019 repertoire showing, “This is a movie that shouldn’t work but it really does do it beautifully.”

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