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Invasion of Alien Bikini
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by Jay Seaver

"Has problems even before you realize she isn't even in a bikini."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Part of what's fun about South Korean cinema is how - at least with the stuff that is good enough for export - filmmakers often seem to feel no particular need to stay within standard genre lines. A monster movie will spend a lot of time on dysfunctional family relations; a thriller will display an oddball sense of humor; a tony historical piece will wallow in blood and guts. Which means that, even though a movie with a name like "Invasion of Alien Bikini" would seem destined to be a specific sort of flick, a swerve is inevitable. In this case, though, I can't say it was particularly well-advised.

Young-gun (Hong Young-geun) is, perhaps, just a bit repressed. He's never had a girlfriend, or even gotten laid, and he channels that energy into crime-fighting, patrolling the city in a superhero costume and fake mustache to protect his identity. Tonight, he breaks up what he thinks is a mugging, bringing the injured girl, Monica (Ha Eun-jung), back to his apartment to rest and hide. The guys he fought weren't garden variety thugs, though - they were government agents tracking an alien entity that they believe has possessed Monica so that it can reproduce before morning - an action that would bring about the end of the world.

The plot this sets up is admirable in its simplicity - she wants his seed for what may be nefarious purposes, but he attempts to hold out for entirely different reasons. There's a funny, sexy little movie to be made from that, although it might not be feature-length, especially given the small cast and tight time frame that co-writer/director Oh Young-doo builds in. He and the cast do a good job of working that for a while, bouncing between snappy wit and self-aware silliness. It's clearly low-budget, but does a nice job of staying within those bounds, feeling like an homage to American B-movies.

At least, up to a point. Then it starts getting dark and mean, and while the seeds for this are planted early on and the first half is never completely happy-go-lucky, it's still a pretty drastic change of tone: A movie where a dork like Young-gun gets the drop on agents of a super-secret government agency and embarrasses them is funny, but stops being so when people are getting killed in grisly ways. Young-gun and Monica being driven nuts by desire is a riot... until they start hitting each other. Maybe if there were some more substance or subtext to the story, it would work (and who knows, maybe from a Korean cultural perspective it makes sense as a pro-abstinence message or spoof thereof), but Oh has a hard time highlighting the upsides of intensity after the audience settles in for comedy.

The two leads are pretty good, though - Ha Eun-jung is a lot of fun as Monica tries to sweet-talk her way into Young-gun's pants, not exaggerating her possible extra-terrestrial origins but making the moments when she seems a bit off funny. Hong Young-geun (who also collaborated on the script) does a decent job of humanizing a very broadly drawn character - the mustache alone would have clobbered many actors. Both are passable when grittiness is called for. The guys playing the secret agents do all right.

Interestingly, "Invasion of Alien Bikini" showed up at Fantasia before its late-August opening in South Korea, so I have no idea how it plays to its native audience. Maybe its issues aren't universal, but from here, it seems like it's a lot less fun than a movie with its name should be.

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originally posted: 08/25/11 09:55:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2011 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2011 series, click here.

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Directed by
  Young-doo Oh

Written by
  Young-doo Oh

  Young-geun Hong
  Eun-jung Ha

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