Unidentified taps into a question that humans have had for generations. What if we are not alone? This Korean film puts contact with aliens squarely in the modern world. Rather than decending into pandemonium, the chaos unfolds in a very subtle way that serves the story well. It’s an innovative, more than slightly chaotic take on the first-contact genre.
There are many ways to tell a first-contact story. Some can be comical, as everyone faces the chaos. They can be disaster movies as humans navigate a massive amount of destruction. Others can be profound, stories of different species coming together or learning to live side-by-side. At their most profound, these can be meditations on the very nature of humanity.
Unidentified manages to combine several storytelling tones. It’s part mocumentary, part comedy, part seering drama. The characters themselves are lovably unconventional. The performances by stars Sun Jang, Hyoin Kim and Hohyeon Jeon among others ground what could otherwise be a truly bizarre story. Each character brings an unexpected depth to their characters, regardless of how out-there their respective stories are.
The theme of peaceful co-existence is a poignant throughline through Unidentified. Regardless of anything else that’s happening, this is what connects the entire saga. This is a topical and timeless message. Of note, should be left to the Korean people to comment on whether this was an effective way to illustrate aspirations of re-unification.
The big reveal is handled with little fanfare. For some it might be predictable. For others, it might come out of nowhere. Whatever the case, it comes quietly with little fuss. There isn’t even really a full exploration of what the implications are. Perhaps this is for the best. Perhaps the strongest development in this case is everything that’s left unsaid.
If anything, it’s a shame that some characters aren’t given more time. Truthfully, any of the characters introduced could have a movie all of their own. Perhaps this story would have ultimately been better being adapted in a serialized format. K-dramas are deservedly popular, and this would certainly make an intriguing adaptation. There is just so much introduced in this movie, that every story should get at least a little bit more of the spotlight.
Finally, Unidentified functions as a 1990s period piece in the best possible way. Rather than leaning into nostalgia, however, the movie really captures the optimism that characterized this decade. There is something to be said for a period piece that also manages to feel outside of time, however. It’s very effective, and works well for this particular story.
Unidentified may not suit every taste. That’s more than okay. It can be denied, however, that this is a worthy entry into the first contact genre. It’s a unique take to be sure, one that’s funny, at times confounding, but ultimately heartwarming. This kind of innovative storytelling always makes for an enjoyable discovery. This story is ultimately time well-spent.
Unidentified was featured at 2022 Reel Asian.