If you haven’t heard of The Host by now then you just crawled from the deepest, dankest pits in the world. Bong Joon-Ho’s epic Korean monster flick took the Cannes Film Festival by storm with its mix of slime, satire, and human drama and has gone on to become one of the most critically-acclaimed horror films of the last decade.
Having previously helmed the equally-stunning Memories of Murder as well as Barking Dogs Never Bite and Antarctic Journal, Bong has emerged as one of the most acclaimed Asian directors working today. During a rare appearance in Los Angeles at the AFM Film Festival, Bong took the time to sit down with Dread Central to discuss his giant monster opus.
Andrew Kasch: Thank you for making a monster movie that is more than the average monster movie!
Bong Joon-Ho: Really?
AK: Most of these films only focus on the monster and this film works on so many different layers and has so many things going on with its characters. I haven’t seen anything like this since Spielberg’s Jaws. Was that an influence on you?
BJH: Many interviewers have asked what influenced the film and have mentioned things like Spielberg’s Jaws and also M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. Like you said, when the creature appears in Jaws, I took the aspect of the community, what happens in the small village with the hysteria and atmosphere. Shyamalan’s Signs was a film that focused on the family and it was the family that carried the narrative throughout the film, so that also had an effect on me.
AK: I’ve noticed between this and Memories of Murder, you love to make hybrid films with so many different feelings and emotions going on at once. In a lot of cases when you see that done, it’s not very organic and it’s all over the map, but here it comes together in a very flawless way. Is that something you’re very conscious of when crafting these scenes?
BJH: I’ve been told that in my films, I mix a lot of different genres especially with comedy and horror or comedy and tragedy. But I’m not like a bartender who knows how to measure each ingredient and mix them together. When I write the script and direct the film, it’s something that happens naturally.
[starts making jogging motions]
When you’re walking, you’re not thinking about it. It’s something you’re doing intentionally, but it’s not something you’re thinking about while walking. Mixing all these elements together is what’s really realistic and natural. I think, for me, it would be more unrealistic and unnatural if I had to do a thriller that had to be tense or a comedy that had to make you laugh straight for 2 hours.
AK: I had read in previous interviews that you had made this film to be somewhat interpretive. Even at the screening I went to, there were all these varied ideas of what the film meant. Since touring the festival circuit, what are some of the wildest interpretations you’ve heard from audience members?
BJH: [laughs] It was at the Cannes premiere when one journalist kept asking again and again “The monster is America! The monster is America, right?!? Right?!?!”
He was very aggressive. I told him “Well, you’re sort of right, but that’s way too simple,” but he kept being very persistent and kept asking that question over and over again.
AK: I’ve heard everything from “The monster represents the war in Iraq” to “the monster is capitalism trying to crush the little man.”
BJH: Yea. Or “tourism!”
AK: Yea! [laughs]
BJH: You mentioned that the monster is capitalism. There were plenty of Korean critics who made that interpretation as well. I hear all these various interpretations and it is very interesting and fun for me to look into. I think that’s the charm of science fiction: You can have so many layers and so many interpretations and that’s what makes it so great. In actuality, I think for me, it wasn’t so much that the monster symbolized something or someone. It only symbolized an animal. It is what it is. I was more interested in how people reacted to the monster, especially this family. They have this tireless incredible fight because they’re alone and nobody is helping them. I’m asking, “Why aren’t people helping them?” and that’s more where I wanted to put the meaning of this film.
AK: Because of the digital effects, you were obviously shooting and directing whole scenes without a monster. How big a challenge was that for you and the actors?
BJH: I think in America there are so many visual effects films that the actors and crew are now very familiar with this process … shooting or pretending something that isn’t there, etc. But for me and my crew and Koreans, this was the very first real visual effects laden film, so we prepared and studied a lot. For instance, we would look through Cinefex and say “Oh, so this is how you shoot something like this!” And we had Kevin Rafferty, our visual FX supervisor, who was very experienced and accomplished with films like Jurassic Park 2. He helped control the scenes with the creature, so it wasn’t that tough.
I also realised that the actors’ reactions were the most important element. Even if we had a CG character that was on par with reality, they’re acting against this empty space. So it’s really up to them to make their acting realistic and express all these emotions against that empty space. Their acting could make the CG better or worse.
AK: How do you feel about the American remake that was just announced?
BJH: Universal is a studio with great tradition, so I feel they’ll have fun with it. But I think when it comes to the remake the more different it is from the original, the better. In that respect, I’m just curious as an audience-member because I don’t know how they’re going to make it. One thing that I hope they keep is the loser family though.
AK: Since it’s Universal, you might be seeing The Host theme park rides.
[Bong’s eyes widen and he bursts into giant fits of laughter]
BJH: I wonder where the monster will come out of in the remake. Will it be the Mississippi? The Hudson River? What do you have here [in Los Angeles]?
AK: We don’t have any real rivers…
BJH: Santa Monica Beach?
AK: It could come out of Venice Beach. Have you seen the kind of people who hang out there? I’d like to see what the monster could do to them!
BJH: We have a big internet community in Korea. Ever since the news of the remake, the internet has been pondering who will play what roles. People say, “Oh, the grandfather should be played by Morgan Freeman!”
Casting on the net, so to speak!
AK: Maybe they’ll get Vin Diesel to play the dad.
BJH: [laughs] Oh my God! [laughs]
BJH: I’m preparing two projects at this time. One is a very small low-budget film regarding a very traditional Korean mother. The second is called Transperceneige and it’s based on a French sci-fi comic book. That one is going to have quite a scale and be another visual effect laden film.
AK: Have you been offered any American films yet?
BJH: I’ve had different offers from America and Japan. But the two projects I just mentioned were prepared even while I was making The Host. I’m just looking over the offers. It’s not something I’m going to rush into just yet. But there will be portions of Transperceneige that will have English-speaking dialogue.
AK: Sounds great! Best of luck to you!
BJH: Thank you!
Special thanks to Bong Joon-Ho and his interpreter, as well as Wendy Martino for arranging this very special interview. Check out the Magnolia Pictures site for U.S. play dates.