After a seven year absence, director Choi Dong-hoon returns to the screen with the sci-fi blockbuster Alienoid. The first of a two part saga, Alienoid is as bonkers as its trailers implied, covering multi genres of historical action, sci-fi and comedy, being filled to the brim with wacky characters, explosive action scenes as well as quality special effects.
No one could argue that Dong-hoon’s multi genre approach isn’t unique, and he should be commended on his ability to make these disparate elements come together into an entertaining whole. The only drawback that I could see for some is that there is so much going on with the film including multiple characters and a plot filled with aliens, time travel, magic and martial arts. However, those willing to be taken in by Dong-hoon’s world building coupled with his willingness to offer audiences something outside the norm are in for a wild ride.
Choi Dong-hoon is probably best known for his work within the crime/heist genre, with such hits as Tazza: The High Rollers (2006) and The Thieves (2012) being a couple of his most identifiable works. Alienoid is more in line with his previous Jeon Woo-chi: The Taoist Wizard (2009), itself a fantasy actioner, albeit on a much larger and elaborate scale.
Dong-hoon sets his story in two separate time zones, with part of the story happening 630 years ago during the Goryeo Dynasty and the other during the present day. Through a short narration we are informed that for centuries an alien race has been imprisoning aliens within human hosts, without the person’s knowledge. From time to time some of these aliens are able to take control of the host body.
To control such events, the prisoners are under the watchful eye of Guard (Kim Woo-bin) and his robotic companion Thunder (Kim Dae-myung). A flying sphere, Thunder also has the ability to shapeshift to look like Guard which comes in handy numerous times throughout their adventures. To carry out their job, Guard and Thunder have the ability to bend time and space, traveling to multiple different time periods in order to recapture escaped aliens and return them to their human prison.
We are quickly thrown into such an event, where an alien escapes from its female host in the 14th century. Before we know it a portal from the future opens, with Guard and Thunder driving through it in a Land Rover. They quickly dispatch the escaped alien but are unable to save its human host, leaving her nearby daughter an orphan. While Guard has decreed that they won’t get involved in human affairs, Thunder secretly takes the girl back to the present with them.
Although Guard isn’t happy about the situation, he and Thunder decide to care for the girl who comes to be known as Lee Ahn (Choi Yu-ri). As strange as this part of the film may sound, in many ways this is normal in comparison regarding what follows. After the intro of Guard and Thunder, the film jumps back to the 14th century to introduce us to its other main plot thread, where we are introduced to an altogether more out there character as our lead.
Mureuk (Ryu Jun-yeol) is a rather clumsy Taoist wizard, who is searching for a legendary dagger that is rumoured to contain an untold power. At his disposal is a magic fan that enables him to conjure weapons during fights as well as a pair of kittens that turn into human form when required.
On his search Mureuk comes into contact with others who are searching for the dagger, chief amongst them is the mysterious “woman who shoots thunder” (Kim Tae-ri), called such due to her brandishing of a gun centuries before its creation.
In the present day, more alien prisoners escape, with Guard and Thunder struggling to control the situation. The escapees are on the hunt for their leader, simply known as “architect”, and once they have found him plan to take over the earth. As events progress the two time periods begin to coincide with our heroes’ journeys all coming together.
Having seen the majority of Dong-hoon’s back catalogue, I wasn’t surprised that he was capable of handling something as large scale as Alienoid. Previous films like The Thieves and Assassination (2015) all featured multiple characters coupled with large scale action scenes. Alienoid is certainly one of his most ambitious features, although it isn’t necessarily his best. That accolade would be left for The Thieves, which hardly set a foot wrong.
With this film, Dong-hoon doesn’t seem to have the same control that he has had with his previous work, with the tonal shifts in the narrative not always being successful. As humorous as the film is, with certain scenes almost being like a Stephen Chow Sing-chi film, they jar with the more dramatically violent scenes that follow later on.
Still, these aren’t a deal breaker, with the quality of the acting making any drawbacks in the script negligible coupled with Dong-hoon’s sure grip of the large scale action. In regards to the action scenes, there’s a nice mixture of martial arts, wuxia style wire work and large scale destruction. The best of these is a middle section chase, where the unfortunate So Ji-sub’s Cop is hunted by a group of escaped Aliens, whilst Guard at the same time tries to protect him.
The lengthy finale is also a standout, where Mureuk finally begins to master his powers, with there being an exciting mixture of fighting and magic on display. For the most part the CGI is of a fairly high quality. Now this isn’t Hollywood, but considering Alienoid was made for a fraction of what it would cost to produce a Marvel film ($25 million), it is certainly impressive.
Out of the cast, no one really sets a foot wrong. Sure there are performances that are more comedic i.e. crazier than the others, but this is clearly intentional. While Kim Woo-bin’s Guard is extremely po-faced, with the character being seemingly devoid of human emotions, Woo-bin still gets to enjoy himself by also playing the shape shifting Thunder who turns into Guard at certain times in the film. Thunder is much more in touch with his feelings, with Woo-bin hilariously trying to act human, but mostly failing.
It’s been a rough time recently for Kim Woo-bin, with him going through treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer. Alienoid marks his big screen return. Before he began his treatment he had planned to work with director Choi Dong-hoon on a proposed remake of the Hong Kong thriller Overheard (2009) called Wiretap, but this project was ultimately shelved to allow for his treatment. It’s great to see his return to the screen and fingers crossed that Wiretap finally goes before camera’s soon.
Of the main heroes, I personally think that Ryu Jun-yeol gets the better role. Mureuk gives the gifted actor a chance to show off his comedic skills, but also gives him multiple opportunities to get involved in more physical action scenes. Whereas a lot of Kim Woo-bin’s action scenes have his character take on a robotic form, Jun-yeol’s have him on screen. There is some noticeable wire work on show but this is in line with his character.
Dong-hoon writes a mystery around Jun-yeol’s character, a mystery that most audiences will guess before its revealed. This doesn’t become a problem, as the enjoyment lies in whether Mureuk will figure it out. Jun-yeol works especially well with the mysterious Kim Tae-ri’s “women who shoots thunder”, with a comical romance building between the two.
Tae-ri had already impressed me last year with the sci-fi actioner Space Sweepers (2021), a film I went in with no expectations and had a great time with. Like her character in that film, she has a tough take no shit persona, with it being clear she knows a lot more of what’s going on than her companions. Clearly out of her time due to the fact she is using a gun in the 14th century, her character gave me serious G.I. Samurai (1979) vibes, with her modern day fighter taking on her opponents with modern day technology.
The remaining cast made up of the likes of Jo Woo-jin, Yum Jung-ah and Kim Eui-sung all manage to make an impression with their shorter screen time, and I look forward to seeing how their characters are involved in the upcoming sequel.
Alienoid certainly has some issues, but I didn’t feel that they were enough to hinder my enjoyment of the film. Even with a running time of 142 minutes, Choi Dong-hoon keeps everything moving at a fair pace and one thing no one could ever claim is that Alienoid is boring. It certainly isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I am one viewer who can’t wait to see how Dong-hoon completes this saga.
Alienoid is released in the U.S. on August 26th from Well Go U.S.A., with this being another in a row of quality actioners to come from them. It is definitely a film to be appreciated on the big screen if possible.
Plot: 3.5/5 Acting: 4/5 Action: 4/5 Overall: 3.8/5