[VIEWPOINT]Viewers discern film from realityA first-run film, “The Host,” attracted 4 million viewers nationwide in just seven days since its release last week. That’s a record number of viewers for that period of time. On the ninth day after its release, yesterday, more than 5 million people might have seen the movie. A few days ago, I went to a cinema where they screened “The Host.” The seats around me were packed with viewers, including a group of insurance canvassers who were mostly women of middle age. I saw that they enjoyed the movie, giggling continuously through its two-hour running time. It was evident that people of middle age and those in the prime of life identified with the humor portrayed in the movie here and there. I have a hunch that it’s just a matter of time until the film has more than 10 million viwers. “The Host” is not simply a comedy. It contains elements such as a fantasy about a monster, love of family members, environmental protection and anti-Americanism.
Kim So-young, a professor of cinema studies at the School of Film, TV & Multimedia at the Korean National University of Arts, said that she recognized the monster in the movie as “a symbol of a geo-political menace that threatens the Korean Peninsula.” Actually, unlike monsters that appear in Hollywood movies, the monster in this film is a “blocked” one that cannot move an inch outside of the Han River. A researcher at Research Machine ‘Suyu+Trans,’ Koh Mi-suk, made an insightful comment that “this is a movie that bitterly satirizes the medical and bioengineering authorities that characterize the modern age.” The film has many interesting aspects, and viewers may appreciate the movie on several levels. What’s more, with the help of positive buzz and word of mouth, appreciative feedback by viewers is filing up the film’s Internet website.
There are many aspects that lead us to conclude that it is an anti-American movie. They are as follows: The theme of the movie is the assumption that a U.S. military base in Seoul has discharged poisonous material into the Han River; the United States dispatches task force troops to Seoul under the guise of eliminating viruses affected by the victims of the monster; and there is a scene where the citizens confront the monster with Molotov cocktails. That is, the movie identifies the monsters with the United States. There are also people who said that the scene of the death of Hyeon-so, the protagonist’s daughter, reminded them of the death of the two middle school girls, Mi-seon and Hyo-sun, who were killed by a U.S. military vehicle. Kim Tak-hwan, the author, said, “Basically it is an anti-American film that is symbolized by Molotov cocktails.”
There are also people who would like to find a clue from the fact that the director of the film, Bong Joon-ho, is a member of the Democratic Labor Party. Some think that a Democratic Labor Party member is anti-American and a film produced by an anti-American person is an anti-American movie. Although Mr. Bong does not agree that the film is an anti-American movie, it is hard to deny that his thoughts are reflected in the film. It is also difficult to deny that it is a “386 generation film” that is fully charged with the passion of those who studied in universities in the 1980s.
However, if we try to put the film under the microscope of anti-Americanism, I think we will be frustrated and lose the main points. To make an oversimplification like that is to underestimate the intelligence of the audience. Actor Song Kang-ho sized up the film thusly: “A super-class entertainment film that will help viewers forget the summer’s heat.” That sounds more persuasive, because the film is interesting. What if the plot of the movie were to be changed? Instead of the U.S. military forces discharging poisonous material into the Han River, what if it were a North Korean special agency? Judging from the level of interest in the film’s theme, it might have failed to attract as many viewers. Those anti-Communistic themes are old-fashioned and do not fit this movie.
Some say artists have dangerous thoughts. They dream of subversion. Film director Park Chan-uk, who is also a Democratic Labor Party member, said, “If I have to identify my political inclination, I am an anarchist. As you know, artists have strong inclinations to be idealistic and have antipathy to the establishment. But anarchism is not effective in real politics. So, I joined the Democratic Labor Party as the best alternative,” he explained. The movies produced by directors like Mr. Park and Mr. Bong, with their boundless imaginations, are changing standards, setting attendance records and making their way to international markets. Compared to the aesthetics of the films, factors such as an anti-American theme and a political affiliation to a left-wing party are rather trivial.
The final judgment will be made by viewers. I think people may worry when a political leader says, “What if we are anti-American?” However, someone saying a movie is anti-American is different. In the end, viewers will judge for themselves after seeing the film. Viewers can cool-headedly discern a movie from reality. Just before the May 31 elections, as many as 531 artists and people in the literary and cultural fields, including film directors Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho and actress Oh Jee-hye proclaimed that they would support the Democratic Labor Party. But the party suffered a crushing defeat and failed to elect a single local government head. People know how to discern between a movie and real politics.
* The writer is the sports and culture editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Roh Jae-hyun