Bong Joon-ho: Horror on the River Han

GreenCineStaff's picture

 

Interview By John Esther

Eschewing the reactionary tropes of the supernatural or working class threats to the paranoid ruling classes vis-à-vis mutant horror in most American movies, Bong Joon-ho's The Host (Gue-Mool) brings a social conscious to a story of a world run amok. The film commences with chemicals being dumped into a drain leading to the Han River. Years later, Park Kang-du (Song Kang-ho) is slacking off along the Han River when something on a bridge attracts a crowd. It falls into the water and comes closer. It looks funny. They throw it some food. It takes a bite. It disappears. Life goes on... Kaboom! A huge creature soars up onto the riverbank, wreaks havoc - and Kang-du's daughter, Hyun-seo (A-sung Ko), is captured. Sure she is dead, the hapless father and his kin - Nam-il (Park Hae-il) and Nam-joo (Bae Doo-na) - seek vengeance.

Produced with passable special effects by Weta Workshop (King Kong, The Lord of the Rings) and The Orphanage (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Sin City), Korea's box office champ whimsically mixes horror, humor and hits against America's influence and environmental negligence. On another level, the host's (the original Korean title is "Creature") confluence of male/female genitalia playfully structuralizes that pubescent fear of sex typical in more reactionary "horror" texts. Besides, who/what is it going to reproduce with it anyway?

The writer-director of Hong Kong International Film Festival FIPRESCI Award winner, Barking Dogs Never Bite, and San Sebastian Film Festival winner, Memories of Murder, Bong is one of several exciting directors currently making Korean cinema just about the liveliest in the world these days. I spoke with Bong about his film, working with genre and who could be playing the unholy host. Mina Park translated.

 


Why did you want to make this film?

I didn't get this idea so much from the monster or the horror genre. It's more about the location, the Han River. I lived next to it from a young age. I would look over and wonder if there was a monster like the Scotland Lochness Monster in it. That's where I got the idea, and it stayed with me over the years, and I made it into a film. The concept of not having this monster come from a broken space station or some science fiction like that - I thought everyone in Seoul knows the Han River. It's very normal for them.

Which of the characters do you identify with the most?

The father because I am a father myself and I have a child. I might not be as stupid as Gang-du, but the passion and love for the child - I can definitely relate to that. The second son, Nam-il, who is always complaining and throws the Molotov cocktails, is actually based on a college friend of mine.

Why do the characters in your films come from working classes?

In Memories of Murder, you have the talent-less, stupid detectives. In Barking Dogs Never Bite, you have the loser characters there. It's those characters I feel more drawn to. In this film, you have the same type of characters, and when they're faced with this incredible mission, you find they become more humane and make a more dramatic type of story. In monster movies, you usually have the scientist or some sort of specialist coming in, but here I wanted to break the convention with a normal, or even below normal, type of family.

If we were to look at films along national lines, I do not think you could find a national cinema with more intense and emotional characters as South Korea's cinema. Why are we seeing that, especially in recent films? It looked like you were hinting at that with Hyun-seo's funeral.

[Laughs]. First of all, for Western audiences, it might look exaggerated, but for Asian or Korean audiences it's actually very realistic. It's a huge funeral with many people. It's dealing with death. It's very sad. But if you look at everyone and what they are doing and saying, you could almost say it's kind of ridiculous. You have a security guard asking someone to move their car. Combined, this chaos is very, very real to Koreans.

* You can comment on articles

* Private messaging to others in the GreenCine community -- and more features coming soon!

* Keep apprised of happenings in the world of films festivals, independent, international, cult, classic, horror movies and more!

* As a free registered member, you can upgrade your account to a rental subscription -- or if you want a rental subscription right away, click here.