Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"All very big and spectacular and in your face." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

If you want epic science fiction or fantasy action films worth their salt these days, you have to look to the East. Big budgets and dedicated crews who make no concessions to the embarrassment sometimes felt around genre fare mean there’s a lot of high quality stuff being produced, and this in turn means each production has to work hard to compete. As a result, there’s no messing about. For a long time, aliens have been storing their prisoners inside human bodies, but sometimes they escape, we are told at the start of Alienoid, and that’s it. Straight into the film. Straight into a wuxia-style battle in Medieval Korea with added robots and tentacles and explosions. it’s little wonder that this was a box office winner.

There is an explanation of sorts – or rather, multiple explanations, because this plot thickens like custard on a radiator – but information is provided as needed and never gets in the way of the action. It’s assumed that the audience will be familiar with certain genre tropes. With that in mind, there’s no real need to explain the bond which develops between the alien who can turn into a car and the baby he rescues from the past, and fans will happily accept the spycraft she demonstrates at the age of 11, as they will her fighting prowess at the age of 23. We get to enjoy all this at once because time, it is explained, is not linear, and the film cuts about between two eras. Although this is initially a bit distracting, the characters in each are sufficiently engaging to keep us interested, and eventually it becomes clear how at least some of the pieces fit together.

In the Medieval timeline, heroine Ean takes her time to appear, so initially we focus on Muruk, a young dosa who doesn’t seem particularly concerned with Taoist ethics and instead gets by as a sort of bounty hunter or scam artist. It doesn’t take him long to get involved when word spreads about a divine blade which is supposedly worth a fortune, with a jewel embedded in its handle which nothing can remove. “For sure, that item is not of this world,” we are told, which is probably why there are scary men and tentacled aliens chasing it, as well as the Sorcerers of Twin Peaks, Madam Black and Mr Blue, two middle aged characters who specialise in making magical items which give the aliens’ technology a run for its money. Meanwhile, in the present day timeline, there are spaceships and alien machines and a dastardly plot to replace the Earth’s atmosphere with one which humans can’t breathe.

It’s all very big and spectacular and in your face, and the ending is as abrupt as the beginning – with far too much story for one film, a second instalment is currently in post-production. Capable actors make up for the way that some characters are thrown into the mix with no real introduction. Although having some familiarity with the late Goryeo period and Korean folklore helps, newcomers won’t take long to get up to speed, and no special knowledge is needed to enjoy the fights and chases and schemes and double crosses.

Aside from a couple of scenes in which Ean is afraid for her adoptive parents, there’s nothing here that would be a problem for even the youngest viewers – no attempt is made to impress us with gore, and there’s a measure of family-friendly comedy in a film which really will work for all ages. It’s incredibly violent, but in a cartoonish way, and it’s mostly the scenery which suffers. Although there’s a good deal of CGI work, it’s backed up by good stunt work which makes it much more exciting to watch, and the action scenes are infused throughout with the playful spirit of classic martial arts films.

Alienoid is pure, unpretentious entertainment, and sustains itself remarkably well over the more than two hour running time. It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but if what you love about cinema is its potential to deliver on fights, chases and explosions, it will show you a good time.

Reviewed on: 25 Aug 2022
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Alienoid packshot
The door of time opens between the swordsman who wants to seize the legendary divine sword at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty and those who chase after an alien prisoner imprisoned in a human body in 2022.

Director: Choi Dong-hoon

Writer: Choi Dong-hoon

Starring: Kim Tae-ri, Woo-bin Kim, So Ji-seob, Ryu Jun-yeol, Yoo Jae-myung, Lee Hanee, Yum Jung-ah

Year: 2022

Runtime: 302 minutes

Country: South Korea

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Alienoid: Return To The Future