A HOST OF OTHERS
AN INTERVIEW WITH BONG JOON-HO
Having already subverted the serial killer narrative with his haunting 2003 gem Memories of Murder, Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho has shifted his focus to monster movies, and the result, The Host, is one of the best and most entertaining examples of the genre to come along in a long time. In this alternately funny, exciting, angry, and strangely moving work, the careless dumping of formaldehyde into Korea’s Han River leads to the creation of a fearsome monster that rises from its depths, terrorizes the countryside, and then disappears with sweet little Park Hyun-so, the youngest member of a hilariously dysfunctional family, clutched in one of its tentacles.
When the Parks discover that Hyun-so survived the attack and are unable to convince clueless government officials to help them, they band together to break out of quarantine and enter the sewer system in order to save her, in what can only be described as Little Miss Sunshine Vs. The Smog Monster.
Mixing together slapstick humor, dark political satire, genuine human sentiment and some kick-ass monster movie moves (the opening Han River attack is certain to go down as an instant classic), The Host is a wildly entertaining work that pays homage to such genre staples as Godzilla, while slyly subverting their conventions in unexpected ways, and the result is a film that will entertain fanboys as well as those who wouldn’t ordinarily be caught dead watching anything in which the central character looks like the result of a drunken hookup between a rhino and the Alien.
Speaking through a translator, Bong (who recently sold the remake rights to the film to Universal) recently sat down to discuss the origins of the film, his views on genre subversion, and the joy of slipping political commentary into a monster mash.
PETER SOBCZYNSKI: What were the origins of The Host?
BONG JOON-HO: It came from the space initially [pointing to the poster]. If you look at those apartment buildings, that is where I used to live when I was younger. I could see the Han River from my bedroom, and that is where the first ideas for this film originated. I would enjoy thinking and daydreaming about what would happen if something like the Loch Ness Monster came out of it.
PS: In regards to the political satire, what were your primary motives for injecting that element into the film?
BH: For me, it was part of the tradition of the genre. One of the traditions of the monster/science-fiction genre is to interject political satire—I felt that this was my chance, and I was going to stuff it with everything that I wanted to do. Since this story starts off with this actual case where the American military did pour formaldehyde into the Han River, there is a very natural line of satire about America; but if you look at the film closely, there is also a lot of satire about Korean society. In the end, everything that was tormenting this family became a target of satire.
PS: The film, despite its genre crossing, has become a huge success in Korea. What would you say is the rationale behind such massive audience appeal for such a subversive, deconstructive film?
BH: I am very curious about the same thing. It isn’t like Japan, where they have a history of monster films. This is not only a once-in-a-blue-moon monster film from Korea, but one that also happens to break all of the rules. I’ve gotten very good reviews from Japan and France — Cinema Jumpo and Cahiers du Cinema placed it in their Top Three for last year—but at the same time, the box-office wasn’t so hot. The American distribution company has analyzed that and are going in with a different approach to the film. At the same time, for a Korean film, it has opened in the largest number of countries worldwide, and many international distribution companies are interested because they believe in its potential.