According to the strangely warmhearted AI robot at the centre of Choi Dong-hoon’s Alienoid (외계+인 1부), the universe is already finished, destined only to tear itself apart in destructive instability. According to him, his society evolved, became compassionate and forgiving, yet like many others sought to avoid a problem it did not want to deal with in exiling its most dangerous prisoners to the minds of oblivious Earthlings who apparently rarely realise they’re sharing body and soul with an alien killing machine until that is one decides to escape.
Thunder (Kim Dae-myung), an AI unit accompanying the sullen Guard (Kim Woo-bin) who is also a kind of guardian, paints the aliens as dangerous mutants who live only for violence yet it might be worth considering that their rebellion may be justified as members of an oppressed minority apparently considered harmful to mainstream society were it not for the fact their plan involves poisoning the Earth’s atmosphere to free their brethren while suffocating humanity in the process. Guard is fond of saying that he cares nothing for humans and does not involve himself in human affairs, yet it’s obvious that as much as his duty is to ensure the aliens stay captive he feels a responsibility to protect humanity, coming to care for an infant child Thunder spirited away in compassion after its mother died when the alien hosted inside her tried to escape.
There is something a little curious in the fact these alien beings have chosen to live in what is our present day when according to them time is not linear but happening all at once and they appear to have the ability to travel through it at will, even stashing mutant criminals back in the 14th century where a Taoist dosa magician, “The Marvellous Muruk” (Ryu Jun-yeol) is on the hunt for the Divine Blade and a young woman who “shoots thunder” (Kim Tae-ri). Alien technology may seem like magic even if rooted in “science”, but feudal Korea is a place of majestic fantasy in which wizardry is apparently very real to the extent that a pair of powerful sorcerers tour the land hawking magical supplies such as random sutra stickers and mirrors that enlarge whatever passes through them to mysteriously masked warrior monks. Yet as we can see the girl who shoots thunder is merely welding a pistol, a kind of halfway house of technology which seems like strange magic to the people of Goryeo but nothing more than a child’s toy to the laser-wielding robotic aliens.
In any case, Choi eventually connects these two worlds bridged by temporal conspiracy as if implying that the future’s salvation lies only in the past. Guard is forced to reflect that their strange act of colonial imperialism in secretly implanting alien prisoners in human minds may have been misguided when challenged by his plucky little girl (Choi Yu-ri) who has already realised there’s something a little different about her distant dad while the fact she’s effectively being raised by two men passes as incidental detail even as the Guard is stalked by her best friend’s apparently smitten aunt (Lee Honey).
This being the first instalment in a two part film, there is a notable lack of resolution in its closing moments though Choi excels in world building running from hard sci-fi to feudalistic fantasy imbued with the strange magic of technology and underpinned by an interrogation humanity as the heroes battle through time looking for a way to repair an “unstable” world ruled by greed and violence and largely find it in each other. While the chief thrill may come from the incongruity of a young woman firing a pistol in the age of the crossbow (not to mention blasting her way out of a coffin), Choi packs in a series of innovative action sequences shot with a knowing irony as Muruk faces off against the masked monks in the past while the Guard and Thunder try their best to keep the aliens at bay with their high tech weaponry, shooting electric pulses from their palms and dodging lasers but still making a last ditch attempt by leaping at the enemy spaceship and trying to stab it in the heart. Whether this disordered world can be stabilised through a moment of cosmic connection will have to wait for part two, but this opening instalment at least is quite literally a charming affair.
Alienoid is in US cinemas from Aug. 26 courtesy of Well Go USA.
“Voice phishing is all about empathy” according to the sociopathic villain at the centre of Kim Gok & Kim Sun’s crime thriller On the Line (보이스, Voice), ironically hinting at his heartless greed leveraging as he admits people’s fear and hope against them and actively revelling in their misery. The Korean title, Voice, hints at the nebulous quality of the scam that in the end a reassuring voice is all people fall for but at the same time there is indeed a lot on the line not least for the embattled hero fighting back against the corruptions of contemporary capitalism.
Former policeman Seo-joon (Byun Yo-han) is currently working a job in construction after being forced out of the police when one of his investigations implicated the son of a prominent person. Finally starting to get back on his feet, he’s offered a big promotion by his supportive boss and is about to buy a house with his wife Miyeon (Won Jin-A) but then everything starts to go wrong. A potential accident threatens Seo-joon’s new sense of success while unbeknownst to him, Miyeon is currently on the phone with a man claiming to be a lawyer friend of his who tells her that he’s been arrested because of a fatality on site but if she sends the lawyer money for a “settlement” Seo-joon will be released with no further consequences. Unable to get in touch with her husband and fooled by number spoofing when she tries to call the site, Miyeon takes out the money intended to pay the deposit on the house and hands it over only realising her mistake when the scammers turn off the jammers they’d hidden at the construction site and Seo-joon rings her back to find out what’s wrong. So shocked is she that gets hit by a car and is in hospital in a coma when Seo-joon learns that his boss got scammed too and has taken his own life in shame in having lost so much money meant for his employees.
As the open intertitles relate, voice phishing telephone fraud is a rising problem which aside from landing its victims in inescapable debt can ruin lives and relationships not to mention cause intense feelings of humiliation which lead those affected to consider harming themselves. Using vast data sets often fraudulently obtained, the scammers are able to perfectly profile their victims who as the villainous Gwak (Kim Mu-yeol) points out are already living in the “hell” of the contemporary society amid employment and financial crises that leave them feeling desperate enough for help that they don’t ask too many questions of a friendly voice on the phone. The workers at the vast call centre in China operated by gangster Cheon (Park Myung-hoon) are all Korean and many of them pressed by debts some of them even scam victims themselves so damaged by the internecine assault of contemporary capitalism as to have given in and agreed to ruin others just as they have already been ruined.
Seo-joon’s primary goal is to get his money back with a little revenge on the side as he takes the police to task and then leads them by the nose to the gang’s base in China, all that time in construction standing him in good stead as he climbs through lift shafts and ventilation ducts trying to expose the scammers and bring them to justice. The police force is first seen to be hamstrung by the high-tech nature of the case while their hands are tied because the gang is operating out of a foreign sovereign nation but are then kicked into gear by super cop Seo-joon who ironically can act with less restraint for no longer being an official law enforcement officer.
Even so, it becomes clear this kind of crime isn’t going away even if this particular gang is taken down because the most valuable commodity in the world of today is personal data and there’s more and more of that available with every passing second. There is indeed a lot on the line not least the nature of the contemporary society dragged ever further into a spiralling race to the bottom, the effects of an exploitative social system from the abuse of migrant workers to the anxiety of high unemployment rates and poor working conditions simply more tools to be manipulated by scammers promising a helping hand with a reassuring voice on the phone telling you they have the solution to all your problems but this too involves a small fee, just a tiny investment in your future you’d be foolish not to make. A timely condemnation of the amoral venality of contemporary capitalism, Kim & Kim’s steely thriller sends its hero on a quest for justice both personal and societal while pursuing the duplicitous voices all the way to the end of the line.