Producer: Kim Sung-min Director: Choi Dong-hoon Screenplay: Choi Dong-hoon Cast: Ryu Jun-yeol, Kim Woo-bin, Kim Tae-ri, Choi Yu-ri, So-Ji-sub, Yum Jung-ah, Jo Woo-jin, Kim Eui-sung, Lee Ha-nee, Shin Jung-geun, Lee Si-hoon, Yoo Jae-myung, Kim Ki-cheon and Kim Dae-myung Distributor: Well Go USA
After nearly two years’ hiatus the second half of Choi Dong-hoon’s “Alienoid” (the original Korean title translates as “Alien+Human”), a wacky mash-up of science fiction, magic, martial arts and slapstick comedy, appears, and proves rather a disappointment after the overlong but engaging lark that was Part One. You might sum up “Alienoid: Return to the Future,” as it’s been retitled for international consumption, as representing twice the confusion, but only half the fun, of the first movie—a surprise, given that both were shot simultaneously, and presumably from a single finished script. (A proviso: the first half flopped badly at the box office, so perhaps Choi took the opportunity to do some re-editing in the interim.)
Choi begins with a brief recap of the initial installment, about an alien race using humans as vessels in which to imprison their criminals, the process overseen by a handsome computer program called Guard (Kim Woo-bin), who’s assisted by Thunder (voiced by Kim Dae-myung), a little robotic ball that can mutate into various shapes. The action shifted between present-day Seoul, where the entire operation is threatened by a master alien criminal called The Controller, who intends to release all his fellow captives and envelop the planet in his home world’s atmosphere so that they can take over earth while the earthlings perish, and fourteenth-century Korea, where a fantastic weapon called the Divine Blade is being sought by a bevy of characters—an inept young dosa named Muruk (Ryu Jun-yeol), whose magic fan releases two cat-helpers called Right Paw (Shin Jung-geun) and Left Paw (Lee Si-hoon); a mysterious masked man named Ja-jang (Kim Eui-sung); two comic sorcerers, Madam Black (Yum Jung-ah) and Mr. Blue (Jo Woo-jin); and a strange young woman (Kim Tae-ri), who’s said to release thunder from her hands but is actually carrying a modern pistol she occasionally uses to deadly effect. By the end of “Alienoid,” Guard and Thunder have apparently been destroyed in a journey to medieval Korea, and it’s revealed that the enigmatic young woman and Muruk share a history.
That’s where the action of Part Two picks up. Chronologically it shifts less haphazardly between the time frames of the first movie; much of the first hour is set in the Korea of 1391, and much of the second in 2022 Seoul, where all of the main characters from the initial installment reassemble in a final showdown with The Controller, which among other things includes a battle aboard a speeding train. They’re joined, moreover, by one whose part in the first film was peripheral and mostly comic—Min Kae-ae (Lee Hanee). The aunt of a friend of a young orphan girl adopted by Guard at Thunder’s insistence, she now takes a major role as a customs officer whose attempts to confront the danger The Controller poses are dismissed by government superiors.
The curious thing about the movie is that while it manages to tie up the various plot threads Choi set out in the first picture, it does so much less elegantly than before. The less visually expansive sequences, including some of the fight sequences, are oddly cramped and claustrophobic, without the élan of the earlier movie, and when the big last-act confrontation occurs, it’s overstuffed with the sort of CGI bombast that’s characteristic of Hollywood blockbusters, and played in a desultorily repetitive fashion that grows tiresome, coming off as more tedious than exciting. The slapstick is cruder this time around too, the result of giving more room to the two sorcerers, whose antics too often descend to the puerile (a sequence involving their introduction to treadmills at an exercise club seems to go on forever).
More generally, there’s a feeling or arbitrariness in the movie’s final stages; you’re left with a nagging suspicion that Choi is increasingly making up new rules to fit the requirements of the moment rather than fitting things into an established framework. It’s absurd to expect impeccable logic in this sort of fantasy nonsense, of course, but when you begin to suspect that anything can happen, you begin to lose interest in what does.
Still, you have to admire the gonzo imagination that animates the “Alienoid” duology and the energy with which the cast commit themselves to the zaniness Choi has contrived. This second installment doesn’t equal the nearly-inspired lunacy of the first, but it has its moments, and especially if you enjoyed the first movie, you should check out this finale, inferior though it might be.
And finale’s what it probably is, because though it has taken the top slot at the Korean box office during its initial run “Future” isn’t performing even as well as the first movie, which, given the huge budget of the two-parter, was considered a flop. Any plan to turn “Alienoid” into a continuing franchise—which the concept seems to invite—now appears a forlorn hope. So to its fans, the advice must be: enjoy what you have, but don’t expect any more.