Monday, March 12, 2007

The Host, an interview with Mr Bong.

(unedited version, written for Sydney Morning Herald)

“A Hit From The Bong” by Benito Di Fonzo.

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.

“The Host”

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.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

article - Death of a President.

Bush whacked

A scene from Gabriel Range's film "Death Of A President".

Latest related coverage

Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald, March 1, 2007

"Fortunately when you apply for a White House press pass they don't ask you if you're making a film about killing President Bush," says English filmmaker Gabriel Range.

His new faux-documentary, Death of a President, has been called a "snuff movie" and "a new low in Bush hatred" by some critics. Others have chastised him for painting too nice a picture of George Dubya.

"I think it was very important that you got a sense of George Bush as a human being," Range says.

"It's a film that is absolutely critical of the Bush Administration's handling of the war on terror. It's critical of the very cynical way it sought to exploit the climate of fear following 9/11 and the very cynical way it sought to lead the country to war and connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11, but it is not a Bush-hating movie."

You could argue Death of a President is the best insurance policy Bush has had.

"I think if you ever needed a better deterrent than the prospect of President Cheney then I can't think what it might be," Range says.

The neo-con vice-president, who Range considers the driving force behind the invasion of Iraq, takes over the presidency after Bush is assassinated outside a Chicago hotel. Cheney immediately pushes Patriot Act III through Congress, further curtailing civil liberties.

Meanwhile, FBI agents go through names of employees in the building from which the bullets were fired. Focusing on people with Arab-sounding names, they find Zahra Abi Zikri (Hend Ayoub) unaccounted for. Within a year Zikri is convicted despite doubts from FBI forensic examiner James Pearn (James Urbaniak) and agent Robert Maguire (Michael Reilly Burke), both of whom resign in protest.

Much of the movie is made up of archival footage, including presidential appearances and anti-war protests, supplemented by footage Range's crew filmed in Chicago. Some of it is digitally manipulated, such as when Bush's face is pasted onto an actor's or when President Cheney's Reagan eulogy becomes one for Bush. As such, the film is as much a comment on media manipulation of images as it is on erosion of civil liberties.

"It is in some senses a very extreme version of the kind of media manipulation that happens on a daily basis," Range says. "A lot of it is simple editing and I think that you forget the power that has."

Zikri's trial also examines jurors' television-inspired faith in forensics.

"There's a sense among lawyers in the States of what they call the 'CSI Effect' in which juries expect forensic evidence to be incontrovertible," Range says.

Range and the director of the Toronto Film Festival were sent death threats before the film's launch. Cinema chains across the US have refused to screen it. The White House has wisely refused to comment, but presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has said that "anyone would even attempt to profit on such a horrible scenario makes me sick".

Range brushes off the death threats as "just a few poorly spelt emails from suspiciously Southern-looking addresses. [However] every time I go through US immigration I have this suspicion that I'm going to be detained for a few extra hours."

He is fascinated by political assassinations and their accompanying conspiracy theories. He saw his scenario as a chance to make an entertaining film that also commented on an administration "riding roughshod" over the constitution.

"Presidential assassinations are very much part of popular culture in the States. They're fascinating in the way they play out. The film plays with the hunger for conspiracy theories. I hope it makes us think about the way those conspiracy theories emerge out of any major event.

"It's a murder-mystery which I hope is intriguing. You don't have to be American to feel the effects of the war on terror or what the Bush administration is doing."

With luck, then, it will still be playing when Hicks gets home.

interview - Danny Bhoy

Danny Bhoy

Benito Di Fonzo

Sydney Morning Herald, March 1, 2007

The Scottish comedian riles everyone from christians to Eddie Mcguire.

"Speaks Scottish but looks like a bloody Indian" ... Danny Bhoy baffles Prince Phillip.

Danny Bhoy invented a new swearword, just for Eddie McGuire.

"I called him a dick splash," says the dark, handsome young Scotsman.

Which means?

"I don't really know. It sounds quite offensive, probably doesn't mean anything. I've used it a few times since and people find that it's a good one."

Unfortunately for Bhoy's chances of a career at Channel Nine, he said it over the Collingwood AFL club's PA at its Hall of Fame event. Did Bhoy know what he was saying to the Collingwood president-cum-Channel Nine chief?

"I didn't know who he was, that's basically what the problem was. I was backstage and he came in and said, 'Hi, I'm Eddie McGuire, I'll be introducing you.' I just thought he was the MC.

I said, 'Great, whatever, keep it tight, don't f--- me up, just bring me on and enjoy the show.'

"I did a joke which involved the C-word. Nobody had told me not to swear. I didn't really know the importance of the evening. [McGuire] walks on after me and says, 'Well, my grandfather was Scottish and he didn't need to swear to be funny.'

"I thought, 'What's he saying that for? This guy's just the MC.' So I'm still mic'd up and I turned around and said, 'Yeah, f--- you, dick splash.'"

Has he heard from McGuire since?

"I've not had his heavies round but I'm sure he's planning a revenge. I've offered myself as a contestant for Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

So far, he says, there has been no response, but Bhoy's humour has a way of provoking people. Back in Britain after that run-in, he received a death threat in Bournemouth.

The threat came from balancing jokes about Muslim reaction to Danish cartoons with jokes on Christianity.

"I got not one complaint from the Muslim community and a huge amount of emails from Christians saying, 'It's disgusting what you said.' So I carried on doing it, as you do."

The would-be assassin got close to Danny by appealing to his vanity.

"He threw me a curveball by saying, 'Oh, great show, Danny, can I get an autograph?' I went towards him and he grabbed me and pushed me up against the wall and said, 'If you ever do jokes about Jesus again I'll stab you in the neck.'

"It was quite a weird threat because it was quite specific. It made me think that guy's obviously thought long and hard about how he would kill me."

Did Bhoy point out the Fifth Commandment?

"I'd already done that onstage. He clearly hadn't taken that as written."

Bhoy's mouth has gotten him into trouble since his childhood as the only Indian-Scot in small-town Moffat.

"When the teacher introduced me to the rest of the class she goes, 'This is Danny, he's all the way from India,' as if I was commuting every day. I got in a lot of trouble at school. Like the Christian thing, not everyone's going to find you funny. In school, that was the teachers. In later life, it's Eddie McGuire."

Or the Queen, who Bhoy first met as a Scottish Young Achiever.

"Most people there were teenagers that'd climbed Mount Everest with half a head or something genuinely amazing and I'd just won a comedy competition."

Perhaps she thought he'd been commuting from India?

"Prince Phillip did. [He later] said, 'I saw your act, you're very funny, but you're weird, though: you speak Scottish but you look like a bloody Indian.' And I went, 'You know what? You've not disappointed me. You're everything I thought you were going to be.'"

Bhoy's Sydney show will combine his recent Edinburgh festival act, which was a look at the inevitability of failure through history, with material he hopes to discover on his regional tour.

"I'm being more political this year than I've ever been. With the current predicament, it just feels like something you should be talking about if you can make it funny and interesting at the same time. Then again, I'll probably end up doing dick jokes like everyone else."