There’s something oddly admirable about Alienoid. During its exploits — of which there are many, it will in time put you into its corner before the end credits roll. Boldly stated for an opening of a review, but the story in Alienoid is a relatively compelling one given how deep it attempts to go. There’s a lot of moving parts, not all of them work as they should but figuring the sheer volume of what’s been thrown at the wall by Choi Dong-hoon’s script, some things are sure to stick. We waste no time in story development as a text scroll catches you up on the context of this world, i.e., how weird this is going to get — something I’d argue is more necessary here, especially for what follows.
An alien race uses the bodies of human beings on Earth to imprison their criminals until their natural human death, as their society forbids killing each other. Some prisoners have found out how to escape, necessitating an investigation into an uprising. These human hosts have no idea they’re being possessed or inhabited by these aliens either. So naturally there’s a task force of two aliens, one who takes the shape of a large robot (think Gort-sized) and another who is basically a floating pod (reminiscent of R2-D2 and Wall-E smushed together) who both have the ability to shape-shift into humans that both get around in a talking car that can travel through time. The opening text crawl covers the first half of this stuff, but you’re kind of thrown into that last bit.
Because time travel is a major part of how the story is told, it could have been approached in a way most would consider daunting. There are quite a few plot threads that run through modern day and 14th century Korea, the story bouncing between the two as if the events between near 700 years were happening simultaneously. To keep things simple there is a MacGuffin to help keep your focus, but the movie can’t help but feel a little too dense for its own good. There are quite a few characters in this too. It’s not quite an amount that would threaten overlap for memory’s sake. Even in that department plenty of big-budget films have 2 or 3 times the character rosters this does without those issues, and Alienoid balances and staggers the introductions of its main & side characters fairly well. It’s in the edit that the film nearly loses its grasp. Alienoid’s aliens experience time as a nonlinear concept but the way the movie is edited makes it feel like we’re being acclimated to their perspective. It registers as an inspired choice but in execution feels frantic and chaotic, and less cognizant of how disorganized it seems on the outside.
Definitely a franchise hopeful, Alienoid is at a long distance glance a wiry mess of overlapping timelines where plot threads start at their middles and end at their beginning. But paying close attention will ensure you catch on to what it’s putting down. A lot of films feel drained of their originality and creativity so luckily this one has about 2 to 3 movie ideas crammed into this one (maybe a spinoff seedling too), with a sequel promised by Alienoid’s end. It wouldn’t altogether be surprising if a third film may be in the works depending on the performance of the first two. But the most fascinating aspect of it all is the mundane existence of magical realism, especially in following Moon Do-seok, a warrior that carries a magic fan with him who can summon the cats painted on it into the physical realm as familiars. Moon harnesses the power of the wind in his combat and we do see a fair amount of martial arts with a healthy dose of mysticism fueling these battles. It’s something evocative of the classical era by way of Choi Dong-hoon channeling Stephen Chow channeling King Hu. There is an evolutionary line of martial arts that can be traced there but the gene is more recessive than desired in Alienoid, as it’s only a few cards in its deck of tricks it feels it has to diversify.
Of course the movie is inherently silly and routinely tongue-in-cheek, and it keeps that pace up alongside dramatic threads in between bouts and duels to keep the momentum going. There is most certainly going to be a point where you’ve forgotten what exactly has been going on. But there also exists the possibility a certainty that if you’ve already bought into this entirely serious pursuit of what is an absolutely goofy premise you’ll see it through to the end with a bookended feeling of not entirely knowing what to expect next, coupled with an entrancement that, if you’ve ever enjoyed episodes of Saban’s Power Rangers or a Super Sentai series, can’t be beat. It’s not a revelation by any means. But there’s something invigorating about it. It has yet to break its own rules.
Andre is an avid film watcher, blogger and podcaster. You can read his words on film at letterboxd and medium, and hear his voice on movies, monsters, and other weird things on Humanoids From the Deep Dive every other Monday. In his “off” time he volunteers as a film projectionist, reads fiction & nonfiction, comics, and plays video games until it’s way too late.