Choi Dong-hoon makes it sci-fi and action, but also Korean in 'Alienoid Part 1'

Ryu Joon-yeol, center, portrays the clumsy but highly skilled Taoist wizard Mureuk who looks for the fabled sword in director Choi Dong-hoon's "Alienoid Part 1." [CJ ENM]

“I wanted to make a film that was as entertaining as ‘Avengers,’ but Korean.”

Director Choi Dong-hoon voiced his thoughts at a local press event after the press screening of “Alienoid Part 1” last week, not hiding his ambition to prove that the scale of local films can match that of Hollywood blockbusters and ultimately become a commercial hit, as he did in his last two films — “Assassination” (2015) and “The Thieves” (2012) — which respectively garnered over 12.7 million and 12.9 million tickets sold.

Ten million tickets is the standard benchmark of success for the local box office.

The hit filmmaker is also trying his hand for the first time at sci-fi — a genre relatively difficult to find produced locally due to insufficient budgets and resources. “Alienoid” goes even further down the path of the unprecedented, dividing the film into two parts due to its length and packing the two most unlikely themes into one story — aliens and the late Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

This is the first time in Korean film history for a film to be divided into two parts, with “Alienoid Part 1” released in local theaters on Wednesday.

Director Choi Dong-hoon [CAPER FILM]

In “Alienoid Part 1,” there are two storylines that each take place in a different time period.

In one, Mureuk, a clumsy but a skillful Taoist wizard portrayed by Ryu Joon-yeol; Lee Ahn, a mysterious character who carries a pistol, wears a watch and is known as the “woman who shoots thunder,” portrayed by Kim Tae-ri; the two Taoist gurus Heug-seol and Cheong-woon, portrayed by Yeom Jung-ah and Jo Woo-jin, who sell and collect all kinds of sorcery wonders; and Ja-jang, another mysterious figure with a masked face portrayed by Kim Eui-sung, all race against each other to find a fabled holy sword in the late Goryeo Dynasty.

In the other storyline, set in 2022, a supernatural being called the Guard, portrayed by Kim Woo-bin, tries to hunt down an alien prisoner trapped inside a human body.

As time portals open between the two periods, the connection between the aliens, the fabled sword, and the mysterious figures chasing after it becomes clearer.

Kim Tae-ri as Lee Ahn, a mysterious character known as the "woman who shoots thunder" carrying guns and a watch in the late Goryeo Dynasty in "Alienoid Part 1." [CJ ENM]

“[Although the film is divided into two parts,] Part 1 itself could be an independent story,” Choi said at an online press interview Friday. "I have done genres such as crime and history, but in essence, I think they all have commonality in the sense that the main protagonist goes on this adventure, stumbles upon other people on the way, and whether they team up together or fight each other, they try to achieve what they came for, and when they’re done they say goodbye and go their separate ways. I think those are the kinds of stories I’ve been creating."

Choi continued, "I believe that ‘Alienoid’ is the same in that extracurricular beings and humans who live on earth meet by coincidence, clash, form bonds, and then those relationships lead to an intertwining of fates.

"That was Part 1, and Part 2 will resolve a few mysteries left from the former and will end with the characters completing their mission and parting ways."

The two Taoist gurus, Heug-seol and Cheong-woon, portrayed by Yeom Jung-ah and Jo Woo-jin, look for the fabled sword by order of a mysterious figure named Ja-jang. [CJ ENM]

Choi also noted the connection between that and his 2009 film “Jeon Woochi: The Taoist Wizard,” which also revolves around a Taoist wizard, named Jeon Woo-chi, and his adventure to acquire a legendary sword and mirror which would make him the most powerful wizard in the world. The film was a deviation and a new challenge for Choi to craft a special effects-filled action romp, when he was then widely recognized for his heist films such as “The Big Swindle” (2004) and “The War of Flower” (2006).

“Since ‘Jeon Woochi’ is also my film, I believe that [‘Alienoid’] is placed somewhere in my world,” Choi said. "Mureuk is also a character with the same profession [as Woo-chi], so I used the same dialogues that Woo-chi used in the [prior] film. But I also think that Mureuk is a different kind of wizard from Woo-chi.

"The main difference for this film is that the characters of the past get involved in this happening due to their curiosity," Choi continued, "just as I started doing this genre with my own curiosity. The characters wonder what this fabled sword is and who killed the master wizard. But I admit that this film’s universe cannot be separated from ‘Jeon Woochi.’”

Kim Woo-bin as the guard who locks up alien prisoners inside human bodies and captures them if they manage to escape across timelines in "Alienoid Part 1." [CJ ENM]

As for connecting two highly unmatched themes — Taoism and aliens — Choi revealed that the topic of aliens came up from his childhood fascination.

“When I was young, I would often think that if aliens did exist and are hiding on Earth, they would be hiding inside humans,” Choi explained. “When I was like, 12, I would wonder if one of them might be hiding inside a school bully. The motive to create this film was inspired by that memory, I believe. Sometimes I wondered if humans were actually prison cells for something else, as if they would send a prisoner to a secluded island, and what would it be like if the punishment was to have all of your previous memories erased, and to be locked inside that body forever. I believe my wonderment affected the universe of ‘Alienoid.’”

A total of 33 billion won was spent on both films' production, and 387 days, or approximately 13 months, was spent shooting for Part 1 and 2, the longest ever for a local film. Although Choi truthfully admitted that he did feel pressure for the film to succeed, he said he tries not to think about it during the filming.

“When I’m shooting the film, I am constantly thinking about how to make it cool, with the appropriate visual entertainment and characters, to find the most adequate method to portray the narrative,” Choi said. “The budget becomes my second priority when I’m filming, but the reality hits me as soon as press screening is over and D-day comes.”

Director Choi Dong-hoon [CAPER FILM]

The idea to divide the film into two parts was inspired by Hollywood hits such as “Avengers” and “Kill Bill,” according to Choi.

“It was a lengthy scenario to begin with,” Choi said. “When I first proposed the idea to separate the film into two parts, people told me that it was risky, but I thought it was a worthwhile try — when I was writing the script, that was when I heard that ‘Avengers’ was doing it as a series. If they could do it, why not us? Maybe it will become a new format in which people watch films. It is also a method used by Quentin Tarantino for his film series ‘Kill Bill’ [2003, 2004]. When a film is released as a series, it stays longer in our memory compared to one that is not, which only stays on our mind as long as it’s up on movie posters and billboards during its screening in cinemas. And the story was being written like a series, so I thought I would give it a try.”