God of monster

An interview with Boon Joon-ho

At the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival — blissfully far from any rivers concealing flesh-eating aquatic life forms — I spoke (through a translator) with Bong Joon-ho, director and cowriter of The Host.

SFBG I've read that you make films you yourself want to see. Are you a fan of monster movies, and have you always been?

BONG JOON-HO I'm a fan of several monster films, but I was not necessarily fascinated exclusively by them. I admire John Carpenter's The Thing and Steven Spielberg's films — Jaws, for example — but they were not my sole interest.

SFBG The Host contextualizes its monster within a framework of social and political commentary. Was that something you planned from the beginning?

BJ I think it's the tradition of this type of monster film to have political undertones. What's interesting is that the first thing you see [in The Host] — an American researcher asking his [Korean assistant] to discard toxic chemicals — was based on a real story in [South] Korea. That incident gave me the idea for this film, because it actually happened and it had that political undertone. So it was very practical for me to start with that.

SFBG How do you think American audiences will view the film?

BJ It's true that there's a lot of satire against the American government, but I don't think it's as heavy as Fahrenheit 9/11! I worked with American artists [from San Francisco effects studio the Orphanage] while making this film, and when they read the script, they enjoyed it.

SFBG Can you talk a bit about the creature design and how it was working with the special-effects houses that contributed to The Host?

BJ The original design for the creature was by me and a Korean artist named Chin Wei-chen. New Zealand's Weta Workshop made the model of the creature. Based on that model, the Orphanage created the computer graphics. There are 10 shots focusing on the head of the creature, and this head — it's one-to-one scale — was created by John Cox Creature Workshop, located in Australia. So those 10 shots were the actual head of the creature, not computer graphics.

SFBG Both in close-up and at full-length, the monster's appearance is impressive. But the ways in which the Korean and American governments react to its sudden appearance are almost more sinister than the creature itself.

BJ Definitely there is some kind of implication there, but the creature doesn't necessarily represent the government of the United States. It's everything combined: the social and political and the possible hardships that an ordinary family, like in the film, might suffer in daily life. The fact is, this family tries to save their daughter by fighting really hard against the creature. But society doesn't support their efforts. What I tried to convey is the reality that in life individuals don't get support from society.

SFBG For all its monstrous elements, The Host isn't really a horror movie. There's quite a bit of dark humor in the script.

BJ I wanted to add humorous elements, but it was not really intentional. It came out naturally. Like in my previous film Memories of Murder — which was based on an actual, really terrible serial-killing story — I managed [to include] some humorous elements. Combining the humor and fear, comedy and tragedy, that's part of life. For me, that approach is more realistic than just focusing on one aspect.

SFBG What does the title The Host mean to you?

BJ The first meaning is the biological meaning — that the creature may be the host of a virus.

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