When some of us think of a monster we imagine an amalgam of HR Giger’s Aliens, Godzilla and Bronwyn Bishop on GBH. Bong Joon-Ho, or Mr Bong as his publicist calls him, decided on a clumsy four-legged mutant fish from Soul’s Han River about the size of a Kombi and with a face reminiscent of Steve Buscemi.
“I didn’t want to copy typical Hollywood monster where they are really scary and they’re perfect and they never make mistakes. I’d like to give you an analogy and I’ll use Hollywood actors. You know actors like Al Pacino, Gary Oldman they play real bad [guys], really through and through they’re baddies. I didn’t want to create a monster that way, I wanted it to be more like Jack Black or Steve Buscemi. [So] me and our creature designer (Hee-chul Jang) have a photo of Steve Buscemi when we are designing the creature [so] we always think about Steve Buscemi.”
The monster isn’t the only thing that separates The Host from the usual Hollywood fare. After his young daughter Hyun-seo (A-sung Ko) is kidnapped before his eyes by a monster created after US scientists pour formaldehyde into the Han River, squid-salesman Gang-du (Kang-ho Song) and his elderly father, former student-activist brother, and archery-champion sister form a dysfunctional posse to track down and destroy the killer fish.
“In Hollywood monster movies you will see army officers or scientists or biologists or police officers but I want to see ordinary people; powerless, weak, ordinary Korean people in my movie. I had to choose a weak, powerless family and make them fight against this monster without much support from the government or the society as a whole and that’s why it had to be somebody really powerless, for contrast.”
In fact Gang-du, with his bleached hair-do, comes across as the last of the 90s ‘slackers.’
“That’s to emphasis that he’s really like simpleton, a slightly retarded sort of loser, he doesn’t even know that [bleached hair] is not in fashion anymore.”
The monster was realised through a collaboration between John Cox’s Creature Workshop in Queensland (Babe), NZ’s Weta Workshop (Lord of the Rings, King Kong) and San Fransisco’s The Orphanage (Sin City, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.)
However, while the sight of a Buscemi-faced mutant fish swallowing and regurgitating the hapless Koreans who keep stumbling into it’s path provide much of the excitement and black humour, the real story is that of the family’s search for Hyun-seo through Seoul’s sewers while being pursued by the South Korean and US governments, desperate to rescue their kin before US scientists drop ‘Agent Yellow’ on the city to kill a non-existent virus.
Mr Bong, a member of the leftist Democratic Labour Party who confesses to having thrown the odd Molotov Cocktail in his student days, admits you may pick up a slight anti-American feel to the story.
“Of course this movie has many satire of the American, also many political comment, but I don’t like straight propaganda movies. The opening sequence, the formaldehyde sequence, it really happened six years ago in Korea. The Agent Yellow means the Agent Orange in Vietnam’s War, also the long misinformation about the virus is also the satire of [WMDs in] the Iraqi War.”
“When I was in Cannes Festival one journalist, from Al Jazeera, asked me again and again, ‘in your movie the monster is America?’ I don’t want to bring it down to very simple level of monster symbolises this, monster symbolises that. It’s rather what the family has to experience after the monster turns up and does all this damage. Nobody helps, not the government not the society. So that in itself, the situation they’re put in, it’s a monstrous situation.”
While Universal Studios purchased the remake and sequel rights the moment it broke Korean box-office records Mr Bong may not be involved.
“As a director I think the most important thing is to 100% control my movies, but in Hollywood it’s very hard because every right of final cutting, final editing and final script is by producers, so I hesitate to go there.”
So see it now before some Hollywood hack sucks it dry of it’s humour and originality.
Written and Directed by Bong Joon-ho.
Starring Song Kang-ho, Park Hae-il, Bae Doo-na, Ko A-sung, Byeon Hie-bong.
Opens March 8th.