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NEWS ON THE HOST:

Interview with Bong Joon-Ho,
Director of 'The Host'

March 6, 2007 -- Hitting screens this Friday, "The Host" brings back classic monster movie mayhem to the cineplexes. Here's an exclusive interview with the director, Bong Joon-Ho.

By Steve Biodrowski

THE HOST, a horror film from the Republic of Korea that opens on Friday, March 9, generated lots of Internet buzz on the festival circuit last year. If you only glance at the reviews (“THE HOST, first and foremost, is a very fine piece of monsterrific mayhem,” wrote Scott Weinberg at efilmcritic.com), you might be expecting a cult film with non-stop action that would appeal mostly to gore-hounds. Instead, THE HOST (which was called THE CREATURE in its native land) plays like a paranoid conspiracy thriller. The screenplay works hard to establish the everyday reality and ordinary life of its protagonists; after the monster appears, the emphasis is on how the government tries to control an alleged plague (the creature apparently carries a virus) without regard for the personal welfare of its stricken citizens. Much screen time is devoted to the film's central family as they circumvent the government forces trying to quarantine them – the officials, doctors, and Hazmat teams completely oblivious to the family’s desperate desire to rescue their young daughter, who is trapped in the monster's lair. The result is a thoroughly convincing and believable movie with a solid story and sympathetic characters - definitely not a mindless thrill ride, but a combination of political satire and family saga, in which the characters fight off a number of obstacles, only one of which happens to be a monster.

The film’s writer-director, Bong Joon-ho, has been on a national press tour this week to promote the film’s release by Magnolia Pictures. He spoke with us for about half an hour by phone, through a translator.

ESPLATTER: ONE OF THE UNIQUE ELEMENTS OF THIS FILM IS THAT THE MONSTER IS REVEALED EARLY – IN DAYLIGHT, INSTEAD OF SHADOWS. DID SPECIAL EFFECTS PEOPLE FEAR THIS WOULD BE TOO DIFFICULT?

BONG JOON-HO: It was a kind of dangerous, risky thing to do, but for me, in making this film, that part was one of the meaningful things. I wanted to destroy the conventions of the monster film, where you have to wait an hour to see the whole monster. That was something I wanted to break and do away with; that was something I had to do in this film. The visual artists and the visual effects supervisor – they actually liked the idea; they found it challenging. The visual effects supervisor, Kevin Rafferty – he’s done JURASSIC PARK II, so they had experience doing dinosaurs in broad daylight. In our film, it’s not only the broad daylight aspect but to have it so early in the film. I had more concern coming from the crew – the cinematographer and the rest of the crew – they were worried about that whole aspect.

ESPLATTER: YOUR FILM SEEMS TO HAVE A VERY CYNICAL ATTITUDE TOWARD THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF KOREA. SINCE AMERICAN AUDIENCES THINK OF SOUTH KOREA AS A DEMOCRACY, THEY MIGHT NOT UNDERSTAND WHY “THE HOST” PAINTS THIS PICTURE.

BONG JOON-HO: There are lots of elements of satire here. I think it’s because we have a lead protagonist family that are weak and powerless. I sometimes wonder if for the weak and the powerless democracy might not be such a huge help. It does take on that perspective. In regards to Korean society or some other countries, I wonder how much the system really protects the weak. That’s definitely reflected in this film. Our family is going on this long journey, but no one helps them at all. That becomes the focal point of the satire. Even though our military dictatorship is over and it’s more democratic than the past, there’s always this sort of thing remaining there, especially for the lower class.

ESPLATTER: YOU FILM ALSO TAKES A NEGATIVE VIEW OF THE AMERICAN MILITARY PRESENCE IN SOUTH KOREA – FOR EXAMPLE, IN THE PROLOGUE, WHEN THE AMERICAN MILITARY DOCTOR ORDERS HIS KOREAN SUBORDINATE TO DUMP TOXIC CHEMICALS INTO THE HAN RIVER. DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR FILM EXPLICITLY ANTI-AMERICAN?

BONG JOON-HO: It is true that there is lots of political satire in this film, and that was quite intentional. In regards to the opening scene, there was a famous case seven years ago, where toxins were poured into the Han River. I felt that story also goes in tune with the conventions of the monster genre. For someone who’s preparing a film of a creature coming out of the Han River, to have a case like this in front of him became a very good starting point, and I was very inspired by that event. That was the inspiration for the opening scene and the starting point for the whole story. Of course there would be a line of satire of America; it just became very natural to have it, and it follows in the conventions of the monster genre. But in the broad sense, to compress it or simplify it as an anti-American film, I think that’s not correct because there’s always a history of political satire in the sci-fi genre. If you look in the broad sense, the American satire is just one part of it. There is also the satire against the Korean society and, even further, the whole system that doesn’t protect the weak people. That’s the greater flow of satire in this film, not that one part of anti-Americanism.

ESPLATTER: AS “THE HOST” HAS GOTTEN INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION, HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO GAUGE AUDIENCE REACTIONS AROUND THE WORLD?

BONG JOON-HO: I have been able to watch this film with various audiences around the world, having gone to lots of film festivals and having the film opening in various countries. The funny and interesting thing is that basically where they laugh, where they cry, where they flinch are around the same places. That was interesting to me. As to whether all audiences catch the detail and the nuances, these are my vague thoughts on that: The “hot-blooded belt” – meaning places like Korea and Spain, with hot-blooded people – they seem to relate better with the loser characters in this film. I haven’t been to Latin America with this film, but from what I’ve heard, in terms of reaction, it seems these hot-blooded people really are carried away by these characters. As to American audiences, we’ll have to wait and see; I’m not quite sure yet.

ESPLATTER: SO AUDIENCES IN SPAIN REACT POSITIVELY TO THE FAMILY’S WILD GRIEF WHEN THEY THINK THE DAUGHTER IS DEAD (A SCENE THAT MAY LOOK A LITTLE OVER-THE-TOP TO AMERICAN VIEWERS)?

BONG JOON-HO: Like Spain or Italy – I’m thinking especially like maybe southern Italy – I would think they’d say, ‘Mama Mia!!’ They could really get into it! That’s just my prediction. But I’ve seen reactions in Japan where they start out with laughter but then they cover their mouth; they’re laughing with their mouth closed. I realize there are little cultural, racial differences.

ESPLATTER: HOW SATISFIED ARE YOU PERSONALLY WITH “THE HOST?” AND WOULD YOU DO ANOTHER MONSTER MOVIE, OR WOULD YOU PREFER TO MOVE ON TO OTHER GENRES?

BONG JOON-HO: I think it’s the case of ever director: of course you want to shoot it over again. It’s like continuous regrets. But you look to the next film and go on. Whether it be a sci-fi film or a monster film, I would like to do a different type of story. Whatever story I take on next, whatever genre I choose, I’d like to recreate the genre, breathe new life, or find a new form of storytelling with the genre. Except for the musical genre!

ESPLATTER: WILL THERE BE AMERICAN REMAKE OF THE HOST?

BONG JOON-HO: Last year at the AFM [American Film Market], Universal bought the remake rights to THE HOST. Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing the remake in a few years time.

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