Movie Review: Alienoid (외계+인 1부)

In recent years, South Korean filmmakers have made their names known to movie audiences all over the world with such big hits as Oscar winner PARASITE (Bong Joon-ho/봉준호), THE OUTLAWS (Kang Yoon-sung/강윤성) and its sequel, THE ROUNDUP (Lee Sang-yoon/이상윤), TRAIN TO BUSAN (Yeon Sang-ho/연상호), THE HANDMAIDEN (Park Chan-wook/박찬욱), THE THIEVES (Choi Dong-hoon/최동훈) and more. Choi is now back with his most ambitious and most expensive (by far!) film to date – ALIENOID.

A sci-fi fantasy, ALIENOID tells the story of a race of aliens who for centuries have been using Earth as its prison. Every so often, a new shipment of prisoners arrives and they get injected into the brains of unsuspecting humans. When the humans die, so do the prisoners. An alien robot known as Guard (Kim Woo-bin/김우빈) is in charge on ensuring that the prisoners don’t escape from their human hosts, which they apparently do from time to time. When that happens, Guard and his robotic sidekick Thunder (voiced by Kim Dae-myung/김대명) travel through space and time to put them back inside. One time, however, when the pair travels back to the 14th century to handle a prison break, they do something they’re not supposed to do – they take a human baby back to the present with them. Now, that child, named Eun (Choi Yu-ri/최유리) is a curious pre-teen and she has a lot of questions about her “dad” and his car that can talk. Meanwhile, back in the 14th century, Muruk (Ryu Jun-yeol/류준열), a clumsy but loveable Taoist shaman, begins searching for a legendary divine sword along with his sidekicks, Right Paw and Left Paw. His quest isn’t easy though, as others are looking for the sword too, including a pair of Taoist magicians, a masked monk, a man who wears a Western suit and a woman who has a pistol.

That’s the simple version to this story as there is more – a whole lot more. Choi, who also wrote the story, has decided to throw everything into this one and it gets overwhelming as the action not only switches back and forth between the 21st to the 14th centuries, it starts to blend them together too. Plot holes begin to emerge in the nearly 2½-hour production only for audiences to learn that there’s a Part 2, which is expected to come out next year. Presumably… hopefully, all our questions will be answered then. In the meantime, Choi gives us a bloated, big budget, unholy mess. He’s obviously trying to emulate what MARVEL did with AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and AVENGERS: ENDGAME but it doesn’t work at all. There are the obvious comparisons to many films including BACK TO THE FUTURE, THE HOST and EXIT, but the biggest problem with ALIENOID is that it’s neither interesting nor is it fun. With the exception of one scene where the pistol woman makes a gesture to the magicians that they don’t understand, my audience was completely silent for the duration of the film. ALIENOID is just a complete slog.

It seems I’m not alone in this assessment. The film opened in South Korea on July 20th and it quickly zoomed to the top spot in the box office there. Three weeks later, however, it’s in tenth place. With a production budget reported to be 33 billion won (US$200 million), there is no way ALIENOID is going to come close to making a profit even after the film makes its way around the world. I predict that this will be South Korea’s biggest box office bomb to date.

ALIENOID opens here in Hong Kong on Thursday (August 18th). Hongkongers love South Korean films so, of course, they’re going to rush out to see it but I can’t imagine it will draw crowds in a few weeks’ time. If less is more, than this film proves that the opposite is also true.

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