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That river creature is his baby: Meet the maker of ‘Host’

July 16,2006
We all have dreams, but not everyone has the chance to realize theirs. Bong Joon-ho, 37, is one of the lucky few: He’s been waiting to make his latest film, “The Host,” since he was a high school student who looked out his apartment window and swore he saw a monster climbing up Jamsil bridge.
It may have been no more than a momentary fantasy produced by an overworked mind (he says he had been studying for exams, enough to stress out any teenager), but Bong decided that day that he would make it into a movie.
Nearly 20 years and leaps in film special effects later, “The Host” is set to open July 27. The movie is a fascinating combination of a monster flick, Korean comedy and a family love story.

Q. How did the production come about?
A. In 2000, Albert L. Mcfarland, a civilian official with the U.S. Army, ordered the disposal of 470 bottles of formaldehyde in the Han River. That was the start. Most monster films have a setting for the creation of the monster, and I thought that this was an incident I could use to develop a story about a monster coming out of the Han River. However, I wanted the main theme to be centered on “family.”

After the monster kidnaps the student character, Hyeon-seo, the people who have to deal with it are just normal people.
Right. Unlike many other monster films, the characters aren’t scientists and soldiers. They’re ordinary family members, or perhaps a little less than ordinary families. In some ways, they are pathetic. In most movies, mothers are wise and fathers are vain and full of bravado. Hyeon-seo’s father, played by Song Gang-ho, is even more pathetic than other father characters. Even still, the grandfather, played by Byeon Hee-bong, backs his son up. The uncle, played Park Hae-il, is a college graduate without a job and is always complaining. For the aunt, played by Bae Doo-na, I used archers as a reference point. Just as archers have the ability to tune out everything else going on around them, the aunt is always daydreaming and can’t pay attention to what other people are saying. I tried to highlight Hyeon-seo’s boldness, and Jo A-seong [who plays Hyeon-so] is quite gutsy in real life, too.

In the movie, the monster, which cost 5 billion won ($5.2 million) to create, runs along the riverside very naturally, and pulls off some great-looking stunts, like popping from one side of the river to the other. But it has no real character. It doesn’t even have a name.
I wanted the audience to focus on the family, who in their struggle to fight the monster get no help from the world and are isolated. I did actually consider naming it for a while, maybe with a female name, like they do for typhoons. But I didn’t want the monster to be defined by its name.

There are a lot of rather unexpectedly humorous scenes, with many of the laughs coming from the dialogue. In one scene, the grandfather asks, “Do you know how a father who lost his child feels?” It should be heartbreaking, but because the children are dozing off, it’s funny.
The humorous dialogue was made possible by the actors’ excellent performances. I was well aware of their habits and mannerisms, and I actually wrote the scenes with them in mind. I can’t stand endless scenes in which stone-faced characters ramble on sententiously.

In a movie with such state-of-the-art technology, you depict government authorities as buffoons, who even try to take bribes amid the chaos.
Are you asking why I added some sordid reality into a cutting-edge sci-fi film? Perhaps it’s because that kind of discord fits my taste. If the situation and characters aren’t something we could encounter in reality, it’s just not interesting.

In “The Host,” the monster not only appears as soon as the move begins, but in broad daylight, too.
It is a monster movie, but I wanted break the rules. I would have hated it if it took half an hour just to see the monster’s tail in dark sewage. The monster shows itself early on, and it’s what happens next that is important.

Despite costing a lot of money to create, the monster is actually quite small.
Jang Hee-cheol [who designed the monster] said it had to be something even Song [Gang-ho] could fight. The size of the monster could change the tone of the whole film. It’s not supposed to be able to destroy the Banpo bridge and the 63 Building.

What was the most difficult part of creating the monster?
Initially I wanted to commission the work to Weta Digital, in New Zealand. We discussed the computer graphics for almost a year, but in the end they asked for too much money. Fortunately, I had discussed the project with the Orphanage [a special effects company in the United States], and gave the work to them instead, and they did the job with great passion. They even organized a weekly “Korea Day” at their studio and drank soju. Each monster shot cost 30 million won, meaning I had to take the cost of each scene into account while preparing the filming. It was very difficult.

Why didn’t you show the monster’s face?
Never. Still shots of monsters [in which the face can be seen] are always a let-down. The audience should see a moving image with sound.

Are you going to show the monster in another movie?
I won’t, but other young directors could make a sequel, I suppose. There are a lot of other films I want to make. But Hollywood has expressed interest in remaking “The Host.”


by Yang Seung-cheol


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