Choi Dong-hoon’s Alienoid (외계+인 1부) is a really entertaining, time-bending sci-fi that’s packed with action, laughs and impressive ideas.
Some stories are just too big to be contained in a single film. Bursting at the seams with time-bending, high concept ideas, Korean writer-director Choi Dong-hoon’s Alienoid is a mere ‘part one’ of a sprawling extra-terrestrial epic that delivers on the visuals, the action and the comedy, and utilises its narrative to cleverly weave together a period action flick with a modern sci-fi drama.
In Korea of 1391, during the Goryeo Dynasty, Muruk (Ryu Jun-yeol), a magic user or ‘dosa’, is on the hunt for the mystical and very valuable Divine Blade. But during his search, he crosses paths with a young woman (Kim Tae-ri) from the future, who is on the hunt for a dangerous alien that’s trapped within an unsuspecting human body.
There are two specific timelines in Alienoid, and the crux of the film comes when they intersect. In the present, an alien species has been using Earth as a prison, storing its criminals within the brains of unwitting humans. Disguised as a human and a car/occasional floating droid, Guard (Kim Woo-bin) and Thunder are tasked with controlling the odd jailbreak, and have integrated into society after ‘adopting’ a baby found during one of their missions to avoid suspicion. It’s this section of the film that’s action heavy and focused on exposition: explaining what it is that’s going on and driving the plot forward. And then it’s in the past, with Muruk and his infiltration of a secret temple, where the film can utilise its comedy and impressive hand-to-hand fight scenes.
Choi Dong-hoon isn’t afraid to, if you’ll excuse the pun, shoot for the stars here, and Alienoid is really bold in its concept, its visuals and its execution. It’s convoluted but not inaccessible, funny but not slapstick, and CGI-heavy without feeling overloaded. It walks the fine line that a lot of big-budget, action sci-fi films navigate, but manages not to tread over it and become a jumbled mess. It has a clear idea of its story and takes its time getting there. (Hence the whole ‘part one’ thing.)
Alienoid also offers surprises and, although some aspects are a little predictable, it manages to deliver its shock moments without seeming too obvious. The aliens are interesting visually, and the film manages to put a new spin on the oft-tried and tired concepts of UFOs and long, tall, gangly-extra terrestrial figure. It’s a little bit silly, but in a manner that really works tonally, and an impressive comedy performance from Ryu Jun-yeol means that the ‘past’ stuff doesn’t feel like filler whilst the ‘present’ is still getting the audience up to speed. Each timeline informs the audience about the other, and the way they are weaved together by Choi is clever and keeps the momentum up, even as we shift between eras, palettes and narrative threads.
As the film reaches its conclusion, it does a great job of wetting the appetite for ‘part two’. If this is the level of action, spectacle and imagination on display during the set-up, one can only hope the heights of its successor will be as much of a delight. Alienoid is maybe not one for the serious sci-fi aficionados, but it’s certainly one for those looking to have fun.
Alienoid was released in US theaters on August 26, 2022. In the UK, the film will be screened at the London Korean Film Festival on November 3.