UNDER ATTACK 


;"Could you please call our creature Steve Buscemi?" Bong Joon-ho asks, claiming that Buscemi's character in Fargo was the "character reference" while creating The Host's title creature. I give it some thought — hmm, Buscemi's murderous goofball character is a very American sort of monstrosity, The Host deals with the same — and I say, "OK, sure. Steve Buscemi it is."

;;We're in Manhattan's dingy flower district, in the ramshackle offices of Magnolia Pictures. Bong is the writer/director of The Host, which is simultaneously the best monster film in forever, the most scathing political film in recent memory and a terrific tale of dysfunctional family bonding.

;

;Bong's a boyishly handsome 38-year-old, and talking with him produces an enjoyable sense of playing cat and mouse — with the roles always shifting. He makes very smart films, and one of his greatest skills is finding the absurd in the tragic and vice versa.

;

;He says that the inspiration for his film came "when I was young and I lived by the Han River [in South Korea]. From my apartment window I would look down on it and think, ‘What if something like Loch Ness, Nessie, came out of the Han River?' When I first pitched it to my producer, I actually Photoshopped a picture I took of the Han River and Nessie together and said, ‘This is what the film is.'"

;

;Bong cites three films as inspirational influences. Presumably for its water-based anxieties, he name-checks Jaws, while John Carpenter's The Thing manifests in The Host's use of cool-toned, tight spaces to create a chilly claustrophobia. Also singled out is M. Night Shyamalan's Signs. "The story deals with the invasion of an alien or something," he says somewhat dismissively, "but it's strongly focused on the emotional details of the family." And the Korean family and the society it comprises is currently facing challenges as scary as those mucking about in The Host. But that's for later.

;;Like his excellent serial killer film, Memories of Murder — which eschewed a Se7en-ish crescendo of horror in favor of a closing series of meditations on the mystery of human behavior — The Host subverts Western horror-structure requirements for a more emotionally resonant goal.

;

;Hence the reason that Steve Buscemi not only appears in the film's first 15 minutes, but in daylight. "I really hate the convention [of] waiting an hour just to see the tail of the monster," he says, which means the audience ends up spending its time simply wondering "what the creature looks like. Or, ‘I wonder how we kill it?' That would have been very" — a shrug — "ordinary."

;

;But doing it his way, "the audience, already having seen the monster, can explore other things. They can concentrate on the needs and emotions of the family."

;

;Of course, the 800-pound gorilla sitting in on any conversation about The Host is its politics. "When the creature is given birth by an American pouring all this formaldehyde into the Han River, I guess … you could say it's a metaphor for America.

;

;"When we showed it at Cannes, there was one journalist in particular who, during the press conference, kept repeating, ‘The monster's America, right? The monster's America!'" Beat. "Anyway, it turns out [the journalist] was from the Middle East."

;

;After our laughter subsides, he adds, "But I think it would be kind of wrong to just simplify it so, well … simply."

;

;True. After the opening salvos of anti-American sentiment, Bong widens the view of The Host to include an inept/corrupt Korean government and the pan-national corporate misery profiteering enabled by Steve Buscemi's rampage. Says Bong, "The film becomes very universal if you ask the question, has any state or country or system ever helped the weak person?"

;;At its heart, the film is about "the torment of the family — the family not getting any support from the state or the society." Adding to the crankiness is the reality of a South Korea grappling with the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the mention of which has Bong hooting "FTA!!!" in (possibly) mock horror.

;

;To its detractors — the majority of South Koreans — the FTA is viewed as sweetheart deal for U.S. pharmaceutical and industrial-agricultural interests that would totally screw up Korea's peasant-farming tradition, while also erasing regulations that have required that 50 percent of Korean films be homegrown, thus allowing Hollywood product to flood the Korean market.

;

;"I grew up watching American films," Bong says, "listening to American music, eating American fast food — ‘Super size me!' But at the same time there's that stress that's coming from stuff like the FTA. It's not just political ideology so much as an everyday life … with the farmer, it's the same thing: It's about their harvest. It's connected to life itself."

;

;Do those stressors explain the film's success in Korea? He feints with a grin: "I don't know. Maybe it was the aggressive distribution?"

;

;There's no pause when I ask him if he feels a kinship to Guillermo Del Toro and his blend of the beautiful, the fantastic and the political. "Yes. But I think he's more visually extravagant than I am, or beautiful. For me, I want to create such images, but at the same time, there's a twisted part of me that wants to destroy the beauty!"

;

;With our allotted time running out, I go for the easy closing question. What does he expect U.S. audiences to take from his film?

;

;"My hope is they enjoy this weak-family story. [Audiences should be able to] enjoy the everyday-Joe, family story … and if they leave the theater thinking, that would be great."

;

;Even with that scene where the one good American proves himself useless?

;

;A parting grin. "The actor is Canadian. Blame Canada."

; film@orlandoweekly.com

More by Ian Grey

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Calendar

© 2016 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation