A few of us humans have a problem, and it’s apparently been around for thousands of years: When aliens throughout the galaxy are convicted of the most heinous of crimes, their fate is to be locked in a human brain until that human dies, simultaneously killing the alien too. Not to worry, though, because there are guards living among us who are keeping an eye on things and ensuring everything doesn’t go out of control.
Which, of course, it does in the wildly imaginative and incredibly entertaining Korean action film Alienoid (Oegye+in 1bu). Written and directed by Dong-hoon Choi, it’s so lively that it’s a bit hard to explain what’s going on – and a bit hard to follow what’s happening too.
Imagine a mashup of a classic 14th Century “wire-fu”, modern political drama, and futuristic science fiction. Indeed, aliens can travel through time, so the story is actually set both in late 1300’s Korea and in present year Seoul, with calendars during the present era showing it’s early September, 2022.
It’s not two distinct stories, however, because the characters are moving back and forth, some even meeting younger or older versions of themselves at key scenes. Not only that, but when characters move from the past to the present and back, they can apparently bring things with them, so some of the male characters show up in 1300’s Korea wearing suits, and our female protagonist, Ean (Kim Ta-ri), has both a magic dagger and a very modern gun when she’s in the past:
In the present day, the alien prison guard Guard (Kim Woo-bin) lives in an abandoned factory with his flying, shape-shifting alien sidekick Thunder and their tween human daughter, who Guard saved from death and ended up raising, while trying to hide from her his secret alien identity. For her part, she’s increasingly baffled by how Dad (Guard) behaves around other parents at school functions. There’s a hilarious scene where a single Mom tries to interest Guard, without success. When a spacecraft appears over Seoul, Guard realizes that something very bad is about to happen to the alien prison population. Police detective Moon (So Ji-Sub) is also pretty baffled by what’s going on until he, um, ‘sees the light’ and becomes far more central to the story. ‘nuf said on that aspect.
Meanwhile, 630 years prior, everyone’s scrambling to acquire the Divine Blade, a mystical knife for which there’s an enormous reward. The reward has attracted the attention of clutzy but endearing Korean “dosa” tao magician Muruk (Ryu Jun-yeol) along with Ean (Kim Tae-ri), who’s nickname is “The Girl Who Shoots Thunder” due to her out-of-time gun. There are also two sorcerers in search of the Divine Blade’s secrets, Madam Black (Yum Jung-ah) and Mr. Blue (Jo Woo-jin), as well as the masked antagonist and general indestructible villain Jajang (Kim Eui-sung). Then a spaceship appears. Or does it appear in 2022? Or both?
Did I mention that Muruk, the fighting magician, has a magic fan that features two cute kittens Left Paw and Right Paw who can turn into humans as required? They’re flanking Muruk (Ryu Jun-yeol) in this photo:
I have to be candid that Alienoid is a somewhat bewildering amalgamation of different cinematic ideas, both visually and narratively. It’s a wild film, even for Korean science fiction and fantasy. It’s possible that Dong-hoon Choi has jammed too much into the film, but no worries, there’s a sequel coming in 2023, which was apparently filmed simultaneous to this first installment. Don’t leave the theater too soon either; there’s a bonus scene tucked into the closing credits (take that, MCU!). The visual effects are top-notch too, easily comparable to a tentpole American superhero film. If you want to sit back and go on a roller-coaster mashup of sci-fi and Korean historical fantasy with lots of other ideas showing up for a scene, then vanishing, you’ll love Alienoid. I can’t wait for the sequel!