Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I mean every bit of that hyperbole, too. I love this film. I love this filmmaker. And after spending 25 hours pressed up against him during BNAT this year, Capone and I are actually married in some cultures. Awwwwww, yeah.
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here with my conversation with THE HOST director Joon-ho Bong (actually it's Bong Joon-ho, but I'm going to Westernize his name for the purposes of this article), who also blew my tiny mind a couple years back with a memorable police procedural thriller called MEMORIES OF MURDER, about cops tracking down a serial killer, who ultimately never gets caught. Sounds familiar? It's a stellar work, and THE HOST is a fantastic monster flick that isn't afraid to actually take the time to get and know it's characters. So I sat down with South Korean's finest, Mr. Bong, and his translator. I should warn those of you who wish to remain pure going into THE HOST this weekend, there are some spoilers scattered throughout the interview. Enjoy... Capone: With THE HOST and MEMORIES OF MURDER, you've make these genre films that are actually character-driven dramas that just happen to have a monster or a serial killer as part of the story. You've managed to breathe new life into, in this case, the monster movie. Did you set out to do something different with THE HOST? Joon-ho Bong: Yes, that was done intentionally [laughs]. Since I was young, I've watched a lot of American genre films, and enjoyed them greatly. At the same time, I feel that the conventions have been repeated to the point where they get extremely tired. Or the traditions are law within the genre, so I have a love/hate relationship with them. I think that inner conflict in myself comes out in my films. MEMORIES OF MURDER is a thriller, but we don't catch the criminal in the end. Likewise in this film, THE HOST follows many of the traditions of the monster genre, but at the same time they are being broken down and destroyed, so it is a schizophrenic thing of both following and not following the conventions. C: That's interesting that you mention that element of MEMORIES OF MURDER, because the guy that runs Ain't It Cool News, Harry Knowles, just recently said in his review of ZODIAC that the approach David Fincher takes to the material is very much like MEMORIES OF MURDER. JB: Oh really? C: Well both are about murders that go unsolved, and the frustration that the community and the police feel with that fact. JB: They are also both based on real stories. C: Right. It's almost as if you took notice of the state of monster movies and made a conscious effort to avoid all the trappings of such films of the last 20 years. Can you give me some examples of things you tried to do differently? JB: For instance having the creature appear in the first few minutes and in broad daylight. Usually you have to wait and hour or hour and a half to see maybe a tail or foot or knee or something. At the same time, the opening sequence with the pouring of the formaldehyde is very much following in the tradition and conventions of the horror genre, to have that bleak, gloomy autopsy room and the chilly doctor. Those are very consistent with the genre. In another scene during the whole group memorial [to those who are killed by the monster in the beginning of the film], you have the guy in the yellow jumpsuit--who's either there to decontaminate or quarantine everyone--say, "Everyone raise their hand if you had any contact with the creature." That's very in tune with the convention, but in that same scene, someone tries to turn on the news but the news doesn't come on, and usually news broadcasts are a shorthand way of getting information in these films. But only after people have been dragged off does the news finally come on, but too late to do anyone any good. That's what I do with the audience: am I following, am I not following? It's something of a betrayal of the audience. C: You mention the scene in the autopsy room. Obviously by setting that scene on an American military base in South Korea, you invite some interpretations of what the monster represents. I've read in other interviews you address this, whether the monster represents America or capitalism. Maybe the reason the film is so good is that the monster could represent many things. Maybe you hadn't intended on it representing anything. Solve the mystery for us. JB: If you look at the opening scene, it's very simple. The symbolism would be that the creature represents America. There was a case where an Al Jazeera reporter at Cannes kept insisting to me that "The monster is America, right?" [laughs] I know it may seen like that at first, but as the story unfolds, the presence of the creature actually starts to get erased. Maybe that's because it was shown so early in the film, and now the story is focusing on the family, so now it becomes about all the things that are tormenting this family. So the creature could be Korean society, it could be America, it could be the system. Until in the climax when Agent Yellow is dispersed, you have the creature there wriggling in pain, but you also have people bleeding from the ears. So now, the creature is not really symbolizing much of anything; it's just the mutated form of an animal by the end. What the real monster is is everything that is putting this family through hell. C: By the monster taking the little girl, it pulls this family together and forces them to cooperate and get along. In that respect, it's much like Jaws. The monster is just an excuse to pull the family together. I wanted to know how you came up with the look for this creature. It doesn't look like anything I've ever seen before. What is the creature supposed to be? Is it a fish, a reptile, or multiple animals fused together? JB: The starting point for me and my creature designer was an actual case in a polluted lake, where they found a mutated form of a fish, and it's back and spine were curved. I wanted that feeling of some deformity and the pain of a deformity. So that was the very basic starting point, but going into the details, that was dictated by the script. The creature needed to swallow and spit out a live person, so the design of the mouth became very important. It needed to be complex and grotesque and beautiful at the same time. Also, it runs across the riverbank attacking people, so it needed to be able to run and have a low center of gravity, so now we're thinking about the amphibian family or reptile family thrown in there. Then there are the acrobatic movements under the bridge, I hadn't really thought of those things ahead of time, but now the scene under the bridge required the creature to have a tail. I also needed the body had to be smooth. I had an American reporter say to me the creature reminded them of a tadpole. [laughs] C: It does sort of. This is really your first special effects heavy film. How was that experience for you, not having the focal point of much of the film not be in front of you while filming? BJ: [no translator] It was painful, so difficult, never again! [laughs] C: I hope that's not true. BJ: Our budget was so small and our visual effects budget was so limited, we needed to pull together a variety of companies to be cost effective. I had to pour more energy into controlling minute details. For instance, we did a lot of work on pre-visuals, whether it be storyboards or paintings or animatics; we relied on them. And these things weren't done by the visual effects companies; we actually made them and brought them to a visual effects company. By doing it that way, we were able to lower our costs and control the smallest details. As for the actors, they were concerned and a little fearful at first, but they adapted straight away, because they are used to using their imagination in their acting. For example, in other films they have a camera in front of them and they're whispering sweet nothings into the camera, pretending it's a lover. Or having two walls on a set, and pretending it's a whole house. They're used to doing things like that. It's the nature of the beast. We would show them pictures of the creature and tell them where it was, and they took it from there. Instead it was the cinematographer and the editor who had a hard time. The cameraman would be running and shooting nothing, or the editor would see this empty space on the film and try to figure out how to put something together. C: I imagine at this point, you've been offered opportunities to direct in America for a studio. What sorts of films are you being offered? Or do you have your own ideas about what you're shooting next? BJ: After Cannes last year, yes, I had offers from production companies and agencies, a lot of scripts came my way, but I wonder is it really because they want me, or are they just sending these to a hundred directors and I'm just one of them. As for what kinds of scripts, it's been various genres, not just monster films. I suppose that's because I don't stay within the confines of certain genres. I've done comedy, thrillers, slightly sci-fi films. I don't know how sincere their intent was, but as for myself, I haven't seriously contemplated moving to Hollywood yet. What's really important to me, no matter where I shoot, is that I have 100 percent control of the film, and I'm not sure that's possible in Hollywood, where the producer and studios are quite forceful. I don't know how much control a director has in Hollywood. If it is possible to have 100 percent control, whether it's in America or France or Japan, I think it would be fun to shoot there. As for my next film, I'm preparing two presently. One is a film with no visual effects, regarding a Korean mother, a much smaller-scale film. The other one is a very visual-effects-laden film, a train action movie. The original story is a French sci-fi graphic novel [La Transperceneige, the story of a the last humans on earth riding in a train away from the new Ice Age; the supposedly English-language film will be produced by Oldboy's Chan-Wook Park]. C: And I'm hearing Hollywood wants to remake THE HOST already. How do you feel about that? BJ: Universal wants to do that. We signed the deal last year. They have done many great monster movies over the years, so it's probably safe there. Capone