South Korean film “Alienoid”, which is actually the first half preceding the second half which will come in next year, is bland and bloated to say the least. Although I watched the film during last evening, I cannot recall any particular moment to remember or savor, and I only come to discern more of how it looks and feels insignificant and unimaginative. Sure, this is supposed to be a grand and ambitious mix of SF, fantasy, action, and comedy, but it does not succeed at anything while merely trudging from one narrative point to another without any ounce of genuine inspiration or imagination, and the result is one of the most tedious movie experiences of this summer.
The story promise of the movie is pretty familiar to the core. For many centuries, the Earth has been covertly used as a sort of prison by a highly advanced alien race, and those alien prisoners are imprisoned inside their human hosts before they eventually die along with their human hosts. Of course, somebody needs to control and maintain the status quo over time and space, and that is what “Guard” (Kim Woo-bin), an alien robot whose design is clearly ripped off from “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015), has been doing for a very long time along with his artificial intelligence computer partner.
During the opening scene, Guard and his partner literally drive into Korea in the 14th century in a way not so far from “Back to the Future” (1985), and they swiftly take care of the latest case of prisoner escape, but then there comes a little problem. While they manage to capture the prisoner in the end, the prisoner’s human host, who happens to be a young woman, dies, and she pleads Guard to take care of her baby daughter before her death. Guard ignores without much hesitation because he is not supposed to meddle with human affairs, but he only ends up being stuck with that baby thanks to his partner.
Around 10 years later, that baby becomes your average plucky little girl with lots of curiosity about what her ‘father’ really does. While she already knows much about Guard and his partner, Guard still does not reveal his longtime mission to her, and that makes her more determined to find that out. Via his partner’s indirect help, she comes to learn of what Guard is going to do sooner or later at a certain local hospital, and, what do you know, she comes to behold something amazing (and frightening) when she goes there later.
Meanwhile, the movie rolls another main plot, which is set in Korea in the 14th century. We meet a young swordsman/Taoist named Mureuk (Ryu Jun-yeol), and the movie give us an exaggerated action scene as he wields his martial art skills and some supernatural power for catching a trio of thieves. At one point, we see two cats coming out of his fan and then transformed into a couple of human sidekicks for him, and that is surely more than enough for you to see that the movie does not give a damn about any realism or historical accuracy.
While looking for any job to handle, Mureuk tumbles into a complicated situation surrounding one mysterious sword which seems to have considerable magic power, and he consequently gets himself involved with several other figures eager to get that sword by any means. They are 1) a goofy Taoist duo who seem to be as powerful as they claim; 2) an ominous cult leader who keeps wearing a mask to hide his face; 3) a lethal man who is apparently from the future; and 4) a young lady who is also from the future as shown from a certain weapon of hers.
The movie tries to juggle all these and other story elements together before its obligatory climactic part, but, unfortunately, it frequently stumbles instead as seriously lacking style, personality, and substance. While its comedy mostly comes from heaps of silly gags, its science fiction elements are mediocre and uninspired while only reminding us of better alternatives out there, and its drama often feels superficial as failing to develop its characters enough to engage us. For example, it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Guard comes to care about his ‘daughter’ more than he admits despite being mainly driven by logics, but the movie does not bring enough depth to their relationship from the beginning, and we only come to observe their story without much care or attention – even when they hurriedly go through a series of big action scenes later in the story. The action scenes in the film are fairly competent in technical aspects, but they feel plain with lots of crashes and bangs, and you may be distracted by how the special effects used in these action scenes look curiously cheap without much impression or impact.
The movie is packed with a number of notable South Korean performers, but they are not utilized that well on the whole. Whenever he is not playing some other main role which is more colorful in comparison, Kim Woo-bin is not very interesting as Guard, and that is the main reason why young performer Choi Yu-ri often steals the show from him. In case of Ryu Jun-yeol, Yum Jung-ah, Jo Woo-jin, and Kim Eui-sung, they have some fun with their respective roles, but it is a shame that Kim Tae-ri, who has been more prominent since Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden” (2016), does not have many things to do here except being as feisty as required.
Directed and written by Choi Dong-hoon (“Tazza: The High Rollers” (2006) and “The Thieves” (2012)), “Alienoid” is a major letdown considering the talents assembled for it, and it is disappointing enough to lower my expectation for whatever will come next in 2023. As your average amateur movie reviewer, I will have to watch the following film anyway, and I can only hope that I will be bored less than before at least.
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