Interview Bong Joon Ho, Director The HostMeh
Sorry this interview is going up a wee bit late but it was completely out of our hands. We had a chance to talk to Bong Joon-Ho about his new masterpiece The Host which is now playing in most theatres. In The Host, 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 has gathered, 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. Gang-du and his daughter run for their lives but suddenly the thing grabs Hyun-seo and disappears back into the river. The government announces that the thing apparently is the Host of an unidentified virus. Having feared the worst, Gang-du receives a phone call from his daughter who is frightened, but very much alive. Gang-du makes plans to infiltrate the forbidden zone near the Han River to rescue his daughter from the clutches of the horrifying Host...
Where did the story for the film "The Host" come from?
I used to live narby the Han River when I was younger, and I liked to daydream, watching the River. I was also a great fan of monsters like Nessie of Loch Ness and so on. When I was looking at the Han River one day, I thought how it would be if a monster like Nessie coming out of the Han River, the ordinary and everyday space of Seoul Citizens. What will happen if the sci-fi creature comes out of the most ordinary space the Han River – that was the start of the film. And when the toxic chemical dumping case happened in 2000, to the person, who was preparing a story of a monster at the Han River, it was just the perfect for my monster’s birth.
What was your intention in the English title "The Host", when the Korean translation of Gwoemul is "The Creature"?
Biologicaly, “host” means the parasite. In the film, the creature is suspected to be a host of the fatal virus. In the more broad meaning, “host” means everything that make the main family characters suffer including the government, the system, the U.S. government and the creature.
What has been your experience showing the film to festival audiences in Cannes, Toronto, and Sitges for example, as opposed to your audience at home in South Korea?
I attended many premiere screenings and festivals abroad, and sometimes I saw the film with the audiences. No matter where I saw it, the responses were almost the same. Of course there were tiny differences whether the foreign audience can understand the very Korean details and nuances, but the details were really subtle…
I was curious if the creature in the film is exactly how you pictured it when you first developed the story?
Under my supervision, my creature designer worked on the look of the creature over the one and a half year’s period, so there is no point in comparing the first concept and the last completed version. We developed a lot of designs, but sadly, we need only one final creature design, so 500 “hopefuls” were discarded. But they were really good, so my creature designer and I used to joke that we could sell them as main characters to other creature films.
Where did the look of the creature really come from?
My creature designer and I referred to amphibian or reptile family. The selected design concept started from an actual deformed fish found in the Han River with a crooked back due to pollution back in 1980s..
How did you hook up with the special effects companies Weta Workshop and The Orphanage?
There are of course great visual workshops in Korea. But there is none who’s done very difficult CG, especially the 3-D creature animation. I had also no experience in the 3-D creature animation, so I wanted to work with a company and a supervisor with a lot of experiences and know-how in that specific area. So it led me to work with Australia’s John Cox’s Creature Workshop, New Zealand’s WETA Workshop and the U.S.’s The Orphanage and the visual supervisor Kevin Rafferty. Rafferty has supervised the visual effects of JURASSIC PARK II, so he was perfect for the job.
The film could be considered somewhat subversive, as it does not paint a very flattering picture of the American or Korean governments. Have you encountered any negative feedback because of this, or is it one of the reasons why it has become such a hit in Korean cinema?
In production status, I received negative responses from the investors or domestic distributors. Particularly they were very concerned with the satires on the U.S. They asked me why I had to include these political messages, but it was not serious opinions causing problems on the production schedules or dispute. At the press screening right before the domestic release, the reaction was similar. They said the political satire, especially the social comment on the U.S. would drove the audience uncomfortable and that would affect the box office. But when the film opened, there were more talks about the creature or about the family, so the political aspect wasn’t brought out. Different from the reviews, the comment on the U.S. or the political issues had no direct influence on the box office.
The film is actually very funny, how did you manage to balance the humour with the scares?
I like it when the seemingly inharmonious feelings are mixed together. And I think those moments expressed in the films are more realistic. The human emotions in real life are as subtle and complicated as that. And the film is the best medium to catch those emotions.
When I choose a certain genre (MEMORIES OF MURDER was a thriller, THE HOST was a monster film), I tend to do because I want to break the conventions of the genre, not because to follow it. Thus, it is inevitable for my films to have a mix of different genres rather than belonging to one category.
What was your intention in showing the creature so early in the film, as opposed to teasing us with a slow reveal of the monster?
I really hated to wait more than one hour to see just the tip of the monster’s tail in other creature films. So I decided to show the monster in 13 min after the beginning of the film in the broad daylight. I did it to break the convention of the film, but also the film’s narrative also requires the early appearance of the monster. There are kidnapping story and virus story that unfurls after the creature’s attack.
I believe that Universal Studios has bought the rights to make an American remake of The Host, what are your thought on American remakes of Asian films, and do you have any interest in working in Hollywood?
If a truly amazing remake comes out, then I will be happy as the original director. If the remake film turns out to be a disastrously stupid film, then the original will be evaluated greater than the new one, so I don’t mind that, either. The remake is solely the filmmaker’s share and responsibility. I am now already concentrating in conceiving new stories for my next projects so I don’t want to be involved in the remake project. Of course, I think the studio has no intention to ask my participation, either. J I don’t mind if they create everything new and different, but I personally wish that the main family characters to be the loser characters just as the original.
During an interview I heard you bring up how much you enjoy Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Are there any other Chinese, Japanese or Korean directors that have inspired you as well?
I will do a small budget drama feature between THE HOST and LE TRANSPERCENEIGE, so LE TRANSPERCENIEGE will be my second next project and I can prepare it in 2009 or 2010. So there’s still long way to go. Right now, I am focusing on the meticulous screen adaptation. That is why my producer PARK Chanwook and I are looking for the best adaptor.
I also liked Hsiao-hsien Hou and other directors, but my all time favorite and mentor is KIM Ki-young, the late Korean auteur. He made films in 60s and 70s and his films are grotesque but unique. It’s hard to summarize his films in short words. There will be retrospective of his films commemorating the 10th anniversary of his death in New York’s Lincoln Center next February, and I recommend you to be there and enjoy his world.
There was a rumor circulating at one point that you had considered adapting the manga Oldboy. Is that true? And if so how close did you come to actually making the film?
I didn’t have the intention to make the feature film out of the comic book OLD BOY. It’s just that I am such a comic book fan and read a lot of comics, so I told Mr. PARK Chanwook to check out OLD BOY as I liked the concept of the story. The filming it is entirely by Mr. PARK and the film’s producer, and I recommended the comic book as a pure comic book fan.
Can you tell us about your next project and any details that you can reveal to us?
LA TRANSPERCENEIGE is my second next project. Between THE HOST and LA TRANSPERCENEIGE, I am planning to make a small but intense drama film. LA TRANSPERCENEIGE will be a big scale Sci-Fi film where I’d like to depict everybody’s admiration or yearning for the trains.
What are you working on now, I've heard about a film version of a French comic book.
LA TRANSPERCENEIGE is the one based on the French graphic novel.
We want to thank Bong Joon Ho for taking the time to talk to us about his film the Host. Be sure to checkout some of the great clips below for The Host, and read the reviews on site.