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Rumors of an alien invasion and a secret bond between Seoul schoolboys make for an intelligent, absorbing mix in Korean indie "U.F.O."

With: Lee Joo-seung, Jung Young-ki, Kim Chang-hwan, Park Sang-hyuk, Seo Eun-ah, Song Moon-soo.

Rumors of an alien invasion and a secret bond between Seoul schoolboys make for an intelligent, absorbing mix in Korean indie “U.F.O.” Delivering a competent package on a self-funded low budget, debutant helmer Kong Quee-hyun cloaks his film in paranoid sci-fi garb and smartly applies inexpensive special effects. Locally, this will be relegated to Korea’s indie circuit and its economical origins will likewise confine the pic to Asian sidebars offshore, but its well-handled scenario marks Kong as a talent to watch.

Story begins with a classic morning-after scenario, as uniformed high-school senior Soon-kyu (Lee Joo-seung) wakes up in a forest, mysteriously barefoot and covered in vomit, his cell phone dead. Having difficulty reconstructing the previous night’s events, Soon-kyu makes his way back to Seoul, arriving just in time to join his friends Kwang-nam (Jung Young-ki), Ki-peom (Kim Chang-hwan) and Jin-woo (Park Sang-hyuk) as they are interrogated by a detective (Song Moon-soo) about a missing, presumed murdered schoolgirl in a town outside Seoul. The boys all insist, to the cop’s derisive disbelief, that the girl must have been abducted during a close encounter they had with visiting aliens. As proof of the extraterrestrial experience, the boys reveal identical, crescent-shaped chest burns.

Script then flashes back to three days before, when the four are embarking on a trip to the fictional town of Sung-san, which the pic paints as a Korean Roswell. The boys arrive to find that residents shun any strangers who come looking for evidence of space invaders. Schoolgirl Lee Ji-hyun (Seo Eun-ah) identifies the group as out-of-towners and bluntly suggests they go back to Seoul. Instead, the boys camp out overnight in the nearby woods, hoping for an alien adventure. Pic shuffles back and forth between what did happen — or might have happened — that night, and the tensions that arise between the group in the aftermath of police accusations.

Smart script gets a solid boost from young actors Lee Joo-seung and Jung Young-ki, who both convey a convincing range of emotions as they play out the guarded rivalry between the passive Soon-kyu and aggressive Kwang-nam. Strong, original twists build to a memorable denouement, and Kong’s confident helming keeps the atmosphere taut while also displaying a sharp eye for framing.

Tech credits are strong enough for Asian indie fare. Noteworthy use of simple digital effects is cunning and effective.


South Korea

Production: A Spiral Project production. (International sales: Spiral Project, Seoul.) Produced, directed, written by Kong Quee-hyun.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Lee Sun-young; editor, Kim Hyung-joo; music, Yang Jung-woo; art director, Kang Yoon-zoo; sound, Yang Jung-woo. Reviewed at PiFan Film Festival (Vision Express), July 16, 2011. Running time: 92 MIN.

With: With: Lee Joo-seung, Jung Young-ki, Kim Chang-hwan, Park Sang-hyuk, Seo Eun-ah, Song Moon-soo.

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