Seen at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF)
THE HOST (Gwoemul)
Directed by Bong Joon-ho (2006)
Koreas top-grossing film of all time The Host (the original Korean title is "Creature") is a monster movie with a difference. Seen by ten million people during the first three weeks of its Korean release, the film directed by Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder), combines genre-typical special effects with family drama, comedy, and political satire. Heroism in the film belongs not to a super hero but to a slightly dysfunctional working class family that bands together when it counts to battle a mutant tadpole that has abducted a member of the family. The film has a pricey $10 million US price tag but made record sales at Cannes and has multiple studios bidding for the remake rights.
Set in Seoul, the Park family operates a snack food stand near the Han River selling squid, candy and beer to picnickers at the beach. Slow-witted Kang-Du (Kang-ho Song) works the counter when he's not sleeping or irritating his father Hie-bong (Byun Hie-bong). He is devoted to his teenage daughter Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko) and is saving up coins to buy her a new cell phone. The Park family also includes his sister Nam-ju (Bae Doo-na), a world-class archer, and his brother Nam-il (Park Hae-il) who is well educated but hasn't found a job and doesn't seem to be looking very hard.
The fun starts when a US Army scientist orders his Korean assistant to pour gallons of deadly formaldehyde down the drain and into the Han River. A few years later, fishermen see an odd-looking tadpole but let it go on its way. Big mistake. Enhanced by special effects developed by a San Francisco outfit, The Orphanage FX house, the cute little tadpole soon becomes a monster fish the size of a truck that threatens the community. Spoiling a perfectly good summer afternoon, it comes out of the river to capture and kill hordes of innocent bystanders. The creature has no designs for world conquest. It is just hungry and eats whatever or whoever is available for lunch. When the monster captures Kang-du's daughter Hyun-seo, the family decides that they alone can save her.
Their rescue attempt is complicated, however, by the fact that the government seeks to contain a deadly virus that is supposedly arising from contact with the monster and snatches Kang-du to put him through some gruesome-looking tests. Joon-ho uses this scenario to take some digs at authority: the Korean government's inappropriate response, the servile media, and the country's lack of ability to provide basic needs for its citizens. Not to be spared is the American government which attempts to destroy the monster that they created by their military presence, by drowning the area in a chemical called Agent Yellow (suggesting Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War).
There are plenty of thrills and scary moments as the family must extricate itself from the oppressive government agents and zero in on the location where Hyun-seo is being held. Some of the best scenes are depictions of Hyun-seo's escape attempts from a sewer beneath a bridge with a young orphan. One might imagine different subtexts to explain the film: fear of the monster that lies within us, the dangers of pollution, our inherent distrust of government, a Western-type arrogance that would rather create lies about a nonexistent virus than face up to reality. Whatever one you decide on will work. The bottom line, however, is that The Host is a scary monster movie that is well crafted and highly entertaining and has a compelling human factor that is both comic and tragic.
MEMORIES OF MURDER (Salinui Chueoek)
Directed by Bong Joon-ho (2003)
Based on an actual series of murders in South Korea between the years 1986 and 1991, Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder is a well performed, thought-provoking film about the investigation into Korea's first serial killings. The film, which combines bleak reality with dark comedy, is less about the actual crimes than about the emotional toll it took on the police officers investigating the case.
The film opens in 1986 when South Korea was still under the control of a repressive military dictatorship. A woman's body is found in Gyunggi province in a drainage pipe in a rural area outside of Seoul, raped and strangled by her own stockings. The crime scene is chaotic. Reporters and spectators mill about and a tractor rides over the area destroying footprints and other potential evidence. Local police officers Park Doo-man (Song Kang-ho) and his aggressive partner, Cho Yong-ku (Kim Roe-ha) are in charge of the investigation but are joined later by a volunteer from Seoul, detective Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung).
The police, however, are preoccupied with protest demonstrations against the government, and do not put the necessary manpower and resources into a proper investigation. A rivalry soon develops between the intuitive Park and the cerebral Seo. Park claims that he can detect a killer by simply looking into a suspect's eyes. Seo is more rational and scientific but both overlook crucial evidence and both do not hesitate to brutalize suspects. Although they force confessions from Baek Kwang-ho (Park No-shik), a retarded man, and a man who masturbates at the crime scene, they know that the confessions will not stand up in court. Showing signs of desperation, they torture an eyewitness to the murders to the point where he tries to escape and is run over by a passing train.
Eventually the detectives locate a suspect who admits that he requested a song heard on the radio each night a murder has been committed, but not a shred of evidence is ever found. After they beat him, he tells the police, People know you torture innocent people.... Youll never victimize me. Memories of Murder presents a powerfully haunting picture of a society so inured to violence and repression that a serial killer is a minor annoyance. As more strangled women are found, a sense of sadness and frustration begins to settle on the investigation and it becomes obvious that the police force is not prepared either by education or methodology to achieve results until the society it operates in can be purged of its authoritarian past.
pardon me for amending your original title "Two" to "The Host" and "Memories of Murder", cos for a moment, I thought there was such a movie known as "Two" ... ... I hope you don't mind.