Alien culture

Jim Gilbert reviews two productions from the London Film Festival 2003: Save the green planet! (Jigureul jikyeora!),South Korea 2003; director: Jang Jun-hwan

When Lee Byeong-gu (Shin Ha-gyun) kidnaps industrialist Kang Man-shik (Baek Yun-shik), he is doing so for the highest of political reasons: to save the planet. Aided by his adoring underling, trapeze artist Su-ni (Hwang Jeong-min), Lee questions Kang under torture at his isolated house in the country. For Lee thinks Kang an alien from Andromeda, heading an attack force out to take over the earth and slaughter all its inhabitants, all the while purporting to be president and CEO of the Yuje Chemical Company.

As Lee sees it, the extreme threat to humanity expressed by Kang’s evil plan requires the most vigorous of responses. And it seems that Kang’s alien nature helps him withstand electric shocks that Lee applies to his body while he is strapped down in a chair - conveniently, there are no neighbours to hear his yells. Built over a former mine where his father worked, Lee’s house and its surroundings have already seen a lot of nasty events, as human remains in the dog’s kennel can attest. Some of these, no doubt also mistaken for aliens, are presumably victims previously kidnapped by Lee.

Abstracting ourselves somewhat from the action, we can see something of the lessons that radicals and the disenfranchised have taken from recent social and industrial upheavals in South Korea. No one there has a job for life any more, social position counts for little in the face of political corruption and the oligarchs rule without remorse. To counter this requires popular, if not working class, resolve and a firm purpose, brooking no restraint in dealing with what is without doubt the class enemy. South Korea’s people have been through the fire in the last few years, and there may well be more torments to come.

This storyline, with its alien invasion force from Andromeda and unexpected twist, addresses some issues in the real, non-science fiction world - as all good science fiction does.

Japanese story

Australia 2003; director: Sue Brooks

There is a lot of cultural baggage about this film: the real cultural divide that exists between the two main characters seems to exaggerate a strong initial personal antipathy.

Geologist Sandy Edwards (Toni Collette) is not best pleased with the job allocated to her. She has to meet and greet young Japanese businessman Tachibana Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima) and show off the company’s software, as well as ferrying him around. The language barrier - what with her non-existent Japanese and his halting English - does nothing to counter his presumption that she is no more than a chauffeur. He turns out, in her eyes, to be a complete jerk.

The odd couple tour the red countryside of the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia, which fascinates Tachibana. Here enormous deposits of iron ore are mined in what is thought to be the world’s oldest geological area. Tachibana takes photos and is enthralled by the gigantic mineral extraction processes he witnesses; he also cannot get over the emptiness of the continent compared to teeming Japan. But Sandy exhibits signs of impatience with his whimsicality.

Although reluctant, Sandy drives Tachibana further and further into the desert until finally even their tough minibus gets bogged up to its axles in shifting sand. His guilt over getting them stuck alone in the desert and placing them in evident danger pushes him to the limit in trying to resolve the problem. When all attempts to dig out the vehicle fail, the pair spend the night in the open with temperatures plunging, sleeping between two campfires. However, this gives them the chance slowly to begin to discover things about each other and, given the egoistic reflection everyone finds in the ‘other’, themselves.

Although clash of culture has been a recurring theme in cinema, there is something fresh in this work. The rough equality of Australian and Japanese cultures - both expressions of imperialist states - does not present the added factor of oppressor and oppressed nations/cultures here. Male and female role-plays are in evidence in the assumptions made by Tachibana and, more subtly, by Sandy, but this too is of less significance finally. What raises spirits is the accommodation that each makes with the other, not only despite their different cultural backgrounds, but melding with and incorporating them.

The essence of this film represents a rebuff to the isolators of humanity, the multiculturalists seeing only delineated ‘communities’, whose integration with each other is to be overseen and limited by the state’s control. Here, on the contrary, human feeling for another, mediated in this instance by sex-love as an obvious vehicle, can represent assimilation from below, and a growing together through what can be shared in a commonality of humanness. What unites us all as humans is so much more than what divides us.

Sadly, there is pain for Sandy to face. But her long farewell to her lover recalls all that is positive and life-affirming in what she has gleaned from their brief time together. And no one who experiences this with her can fail to be affected by it or to learn from its poignancy.