Host‚ The: Interview with Director Bong Joon-ho

Cannes Film Fest 2006–The talk of the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, THE HOST, and the latest film from critically acclaimed director BONG Joon-ho, has already garnered international buzz.

Utilizing state-of-the-art special effects, courtesy of a creative partnership between Weta Workshop (King Kong, The Lord of the Rings) and The Orphanage (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Sin City), THE HOST is both a creature-feature thrill ride and a poignant human drama.

Gang-du (SONG Kang-ho) works at a food-stand on the banks of the Han River. Dozing on the job, he is awakened by his daughter, Hyun-seo ( KO A-sung), who is angry with him for missing a teacher-parent meeting at school. As Gang-du walks out to the riverbank with a delivery, he notices that a large crowd of people are taking pictures and talking about something hanging from the Han River Bridge. The otherwise idyllic landscape turns suddenly to bedlam, when a terrifying creature climbs up onto the riverbank and begins to crush and eat people.

Perception of Filmmaking

The principle I stick to both then and now is to make films I want to see. I have a basic impulse to shoot films that I want to see, because nobody else shot them for me when I wanted to see them as a cinephile. Whether in Barking Dogs Never Bite, Memories of Murder, or The Host, my motivation is always the same. In the case of a commercial film, though, I have realistic constraints such as the interests of the investors, the casting, marketing and so forth. My impulse alone is not enough to make the film. So I need to package it in the manner of a statement, for example, say I interpret the genre of The Host in such and such a way, but for the audience, I need to spell out the kind of pleasure my films will give. But the bottom line is the same. I make films I want to see.

Favorite Films

If a cinephile means watching a lot of films, I wouldnt be qualified as one. I tend to watch the same films I like over and over again. When I was in elementary school, I greatly enjoyed watching The Wages of Fear by Henri Georges Clouzot, which played on TV here. I also enjoyed The Wild Bunch and Cross of Iron by Sam Peckinpah, The Great Escape and Papillon starring Steve McQueen. After I went to college, I watched films by Asian directors like Hou Hsiao-hsien, Shohei Imamura and Kiyoshi Kurosawa with an attitude of studying films, thinking it would be nice to have such films in Korea.

Sources of Influence

I read manga a lot. I like people like Urazawa Naoki. I like drawing manga, and I draw my own storyboards for films. I hardly read any novels, but I enjoy taking photographs, too. If an image interests me, I keep it in my pocket, and become obsessive about it. Often I get a hint for my films through such images.

Similar Themes

I think it will be even closer to a genre film than the two films Ive shot. It is a film about a monster, which on its own has a strong character of a genre movie. But the story will also be suited within a specifically Korean context. The schizophrenia will become stronger. It is an open question how the audience will react to this. The structure of the scenes is very dramatic and entertaining, but the audience might respond more to the overall eerie atmosphere.

If Barking Dogs was focused on the collision between mundane life and manga-like fantasy, Memories of murder has a collision between a genre and the films realism. It was like a clash between an American genre of a thriller and the pandemonium of the Korean countryside in 1980s, in which cultivators were erasing all the suspects footsteps on the site of the crime. In The Host there is a clash when a monster appears in the middle of Seouls Han River, turning the area into a sea of blood. The monster genre, excluding Godzilla series from Japan, is in itself quite American. The Host might look as if it follows the conventions and excitement of the previous genre films, but it has scenes that weve never seen in western movies before, like corpses lying around the group memorial where families are hugging each other, crying.

Mixing the Scary and the Comical

It turned out that way. Maybe it had been in my instinct. A catastrophe is frightening and tragic, but at the same time, it accompanies some comical conditions. I was very shocked and sad when I heard that Sampoong Department Store collapsed. But it was funny how thieves in town flocked into the store after the accident, stealing golf clubs and luxury goods out of their import section. When an extreme catastrophe like that takes place, tragedy and comedy always come together. Its inevitable, because people are out of control. Overall, the film is a story about family fighting against a monster. But its funny because they are not fighting with some cool laser guns. Of course, it wasnt aimed at eliciting easy laughs. In Korea, a catastrophe is like that. Its like a piece of theater of the absurd.

English title of the film

I hope it gives a double meaning. On one hand, it has a biological connotation. On the other hand, it has a sociopolitical reference to the host.

Humor and Comical elements

I think humor or eliciting string laughs is in my instinct. It comes out naturally. In Memories of Murder, for example, I didnt have to look for right places to fit the humors in the film. It wasnt calculated at all. I dont think I would be able to shoot a film without humor, ever. Even if I were to shoot a horror film, I would find humor in it.

Working-Class Characters

I am just drawn to these people. Hot shots stink. What drama could we get out of people who lead a smooth life

Han River as Background

It probably reflects my own taste. Its a space anyone living in Seoul passes by everyday. Its also a place for the working class, whether its a family running a store there or people who spend the night there every summer because they dont have an air conditioner at home. But as the monster appears in the river, the place suddenly turns into a dramatic, unfamiliar space. Like in Barking Dogs and Memories of Murder, I think my films deal with the clashes between life and fantasy, genre aspects and Korean subjects.

Similar American Movies

Only Signs by M. Night Shyamalan, but it might also be related to Steven Spielbergs Jaws in a way. When I first brought up the story of this film, people seems confused about the scale of the monster. Many thought of giant monsters like Godzilla, which in fact its the size of Alien. From a bigger perspective, Jaws is also a monster film. The monster in The Host is also a biological mutation. At any rate, I dont think there are any similar texts.

Strong Comic Elements

There wont be any feel of comic-science fiction. The nature of the catastrophe is supernatural, but the setting is present on the Han River. The characters are from the working class. Except for the huge catastrophe, everything else is ordinary. M. Night Shyamalans Signs is an example. The film takes place within the territory of a cornfield in the countryside, but that is also where an alien appears. It makes the incident look very real. Thats what The Host feels like.