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
At once too much and not enough, Choi Dong-hoon’s wacky mash-up of martial arts, cartoon and science fiction is nevertheless sufficiently colorful and energetic to keep you engaged right up to its abruptly inconclusive end. Unlike Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” which told you straightaway that it was only the first installment of a two-part epic, this doozy movie is like “The Empire Strikes Back,” content to string you along until it leaves you hanging with a forehead-slapping surprise.
The basic premise of “Alienoid” is that an extraterrestrial race has long made a practice of imprisoning its criminals in the brains of unsuspecting earthlings, installing a human-looking robot called Guard (Kim Woo-bin) to ensure that none escape from their hosts. He has an assistant called Thunder, a cute little flying oval with eyes (voiced by Kim Dae-myung), which can morph into Guard’s SUV or even various simulacra of Guard when necessary.
The deranged plot kicks in when the dynamic duo have to speed back from the present day to 1380 Korea, where one captive has left its female host literally floating in the air. They vanquish the escapee, but in the melee the woman dies, leaving her infant orphaned. Thunder persuades Guard that they should bring the child back with them, and they raise her as Guard’s daughter. By 2022 she’s grown into a precocious eleven-year old named Ean (Choi Yu-ri), who’s grown suspicious of her dad.
Her actions, though, prove far less serious than the fact that a craft arrives from whatever world is sending its criminals to earth with a powerful robot aboard, programmed to release from his host the prisoner referred to as The Controller, who, when free, intends to recreate over Seoul the atmosphere of his home planet. It will kill humans but allow the prisoners they’ve been housing to be freed and take over the planet. Guard and Thunder will try to stop the process, but will also have to face off against humans like policeman Moon Do-seok (So Ji-sub), who remains under alien control.
Meanwhile, back in medieval Korea, where it is now 1391, a strutting 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), learns from a prisoner named Dog Turd (Kim Ki-cheon) of a weapon called the Divine Blade, which he aims to find and possess. That leads Muruk to an older dosa named Master Hyun (Yoo Jae-myung), but he’s also targeted by a mysterious masked man named Ja-jang (Kim Eui-sung).
But that’s not all. Ja-jang is approached by a team of salesmen-sorcerers, from Twin Peaks we’re told (no, not David Lynch’s), Madam Black (Yum Jung-ah) and Mr. Blue (Jo Woo-jin), who offer to sell him their latest magic inventions. They become aware of the Divine Blade too, and aim to have it for themselves. Even more troubling to Ja-jang is the problem of a strange young woman (Kim Tae-ri), who’s said to release thunder from her hands but is actually carrying a pistol she occasionally uses to deadly effect. And though neither knows it, she and Muruk share a history.
There are still other characters, like Min Kae-ae (Lee Hanee), the aunt of one of little Ean’s school friends, whose interest in Guard prompts Thunder to morph into a Las Vegas lounge lizard version of the handsome robot in order to briefly romance her, or a bride whose groom Muruk, wearing a fake mustache, impersonates in order to sneak into a house where the Divine Blade might be found.
If all this sounds confusing and ridiculous, it is, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun, given the tone of happy absurdity that prevails (and periodically turns into knockabout farce, especially where Muruk is concerned). The cast certainly fling themselves into the goofiness with abandon, and Choi shows that he knows his way around wuxia-style action. Some of the visual effects are less than cutting-edge, and there are some longueurs in the picture’s second half, particularly in protracted fight scenes. That inconclusive ending will also turn some off—one can only hope that the promise of a sequel will be kept.
In the end, though, the sort of wild, shoot-for-the-moon imagination “Alienoid” exhibits is much to be preferred to the cookie-cutter mentality of something like the MCU. Choi might not always hit the bull’s-eye, but he certainly aims all the firepower he can at the target.