Over the last month on our Slice of SciFi show we have been highlighting and talking about the impact that films in Asia and India are beginning to have on Hollywood filmmakers and Western audiences.
There is a new film out of South Korea called “Gwoemul.” On a previous show we talked very briefly about this movie, which is English is translated “The Host.” Since we first introduced this film in one of our news segments it has become a huge blockbuster in South Korea (number 2 in box office and climbing quickly to number 1) and its popularity is spreading beyond Korean borders. “The Host” will be released in Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan next month, Europe later this year and opens in the United States in 2007.
The story centers around an ordinary but somewhat dysfunctional family who battle against a man-eating mutant monster inadvertently spawned by the U.S. military dumping toxic chemicals into the Han River – Seoul’s major waterway.
What makes this movie attractive is the anti-Hollywoodism of it. There are no beautiful starlets featured, nor is there the handsome hero that saves humankind from ultimate destruction. Instead our hero is a scatterbrained, disjointed store clerk and the rest of his family. His goal is not to save the world, but his daughter. But in their quest to save their family member, they also save Earth. There is one aspect of the film that is very Hollywood – the mindblowing and dazzling special effects, which only adds to the overall appeal of the quirky storyline.
The movie begins with an U.S. military official ordering hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde to be poured down a sink whose drain leads to the Han River that runs through the South Korean capital. After six years, a giant lizard/fishlike monster comes out of the river and begins feasting on the local populace. This is a film that is both serious about the perils of pollution – based on a actual 2000 event where an civilian working for the U.S. military dumped 24 gallons of formaldehyde in the Han River – while at the same time not taking itself too seriously. It keeps that balance well in control.
“There are anti-American elements in the movie, but I wouldn’t call it an anti-American movie since it doesn’t attack the U.S. on any specific political issue,” said film critic Kim Bong-seok. “It’s more critical of the distorted social system, portrayed in the movie by the government that doesn’t do anything even when the monster appears.”
The film’s director, Bong Joon-ho, stated that although his film is not specifically aimed at being anti-American, it does have a message of concern over authoritarian disregard over the general welfare of its citizens and is dedicated to all those in the same position as the fictional Park family depicted in the movie “who had to take on the desperate, yet lonely, combat without any help from anyone.” Bong Joon-ho skillfully weaves this thread of mistrust of authorities throughout the movie without being preachy about it, but still keeping the moviegoer thoroughly entertained.