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The Great Capone Interviews The Extra-Great Joon-ho Bong! Director Of The Super-Extra-Double Great THE HOST!!

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
Readers Talkback
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  • March 4, 2007, 10:30 p.m. CST


    by Jubba

    sorry, haven't had one in a while

  • March 4, 2007, 10:33 p.m. CST

    I saw the preview for this again

    by BadMrWonka

    before "Reno 911"...surreal. it looks amazing, and I'll definitely be seeing it opening weekend. I only read a smidge of this interview, cause I do want to remain pure...but I'll be back to get the info later Capone. thank you Chicago!

  • March 4, 2007, 10:34 p.m. CST

    3 more Spider-Man movies and one X-Mas special

    by vivavitalogy

    Only one man can bring lasting glory to the Spider-Man franchise; Uwe Boll. That's right friends! No other director will lift the series into infamy. In 30 years these current "Spider-Man" stoires will fade into obscurity. To avoid this the studio must take charge and chance with Uwe in creating three more Spidey movies: Spider-Man 4: Gator Bait (with guest direcot Tim Burton), Spidey Vs. Predataliens, Spider-Man & the Silky Sheets: A One Act Told in Four Parts by Uwe BOll and the sure to be perennial classic Gieco Insurance Presents The Spider-Man Christmas Special Spectacular: The North Pole Siege.

  • March 4, 2007, 11:16 p.m. CST

    Saw this, was wonderful. I was surprised really.

    by AvengingFist

    I laughed and I cried. Wonderful cinema. my long review of The Host,

  • March 4, 2007, 11:15 p.m. CST

    Ordered the DVD from Hong Kong

    by Mattapooh

    and really, really enjoyed this flick. The characters really do drive this film more than anything else and you do care about what happens to them very much. There's also about a half-dozen scenes in there that are just outstanding, like when the monster first appears and the scene with the two kids breaking into the family's restaurant/van and what follows. So yeah, enjoyed thoroughly and hopefully it does well over here.

  • March 4, 2007, 11:19 p.m. CST

    its a great film.....

    by Seph_J

    ...and remaking it will achieve absolutely nothing. So, America, why don't you teach your children to read subtitles....? It would save money on making the same film again for the sole reason of having the characters speak English. Monster movie remade at Universal eh? Maybe Stephen Sommers will fuck this movie in the ass too.

  • March 4, 2007, 11:31 p.m. CST

    great flick

    by Jarek

    Seen it twice now. Once at TIFF and once on my obtained DVD copy. So good.

  • March 5, 2007, 1 a.m. CST

    Joon-ho Bong

    by DocPazuzu

    Coolest name in movies. That, and David Brunt of course.

  • March 5, 2007, 1:25 a.m. CST

    AICN is kicking ass lately

    by where_are_quints_hobbit_set_reports

    Great interview, Capone, and both this guy's films are amazing, although I think "Memories of Murder" might be a little more re-watchable... I own that one, whereas the Host I was satisfied to rent... but both are really superior works of film. I would even call Memories of Murder a masterpiece, for its use of setting, character, & music. <p> Meanwhile, in the USA, "Wild Hogs" bumps down "Ghost Rider" for the the Number One box office position... FUCK YOU, HOLLYWOOD... FUCK YOU, HATEFULLY STUPID POPULACE...

  • March 5, 2007, 3:02 a.m. CST


    by uVa

    "Meanwhile, in the USA, "Wild Hogs" bumps down "Ghost Rider" for the the Number One box office position... FUCK YOU, HOLLYWOOD... FUCK YOU, HATEFULLY STUPID POPULACE..." Best comment ever. Summarises everything right there.

  • March 5, 2007, 4:39 a.m. CST

    Great movie

    by CuervoJones

    I´ve seen it three times in cinema. Please, no remake.

  • March 5, 2007, 5:26 a.m. CST

    love this director

    by the grasshopper

    he also directed "Barking Dogs Never Bite" which was a great, smaller flick compared to his follow-ups. funny as all heck, insightful, and a nice character piece. and i did buy the LE 4-Disc DVD set here in Korea which freakin' rocks beyond belief. 4 discs which includes the movie and every extra you can imagine, a script (in korean), the soundtrack on a separate disc, all encased in a beautiful understatedly designed glass-like box. if you're a collector, get it while it's still available.

  • March 5, 2007, 5:28 a.m. CST

    the 4-disc set of "The Host" i mean

    by the grasshopper


  • March 5, 2007, 6:27 a.m. CST

    the Host was great, really inventive and surprising.

    by Giant Fish

    Joon-ho Bong even manages to pull off a scene where the death of a little girl, and the family's grief, is played for laughs. That's certainly something you would never see in a Hollyowood film. Thank heaven for Eastern cinema, and guys like Joon-jo Bong and Ryuhei Kitamura, who still make fresh and inventive genre films.

  • March 5, 2007, 9:52 a.m. CST

    great flick

    by wanna_bannana

    i agree that this is a stellar flick.

  • March 5, 2007, 10:25 a.m. CST


    by Saluki

    Joon-ho Bong is a very conflicted director, most of all when it comes to Hollywood. He picketed the Korean culture ministry so that foreign films (read: American) couldn't be played for more than 80+ days a year in Korea, and was overturned as the limit went up to 150+. He said this is to protect the Korean film market, but you don't really see this done anywhere else except in the most oppressive of countries. Then we have the movie itself, which distorts historical events to make Americans the originator of the monster. Yet the man sold off the rights to Universal no problem, and might even now be looking for work in Hollywood? Interesting. Don't get me wrong, great director, and much love for him showing off Doona Bae from time to time (yum!), but I think he needs to be clear with himself on this struggle before he begins to preach.

  • March 5, 2007, 10:56 a.m. CST

    Saluki, dude, the monster is not real

    by AvengingFist

    how can the director distort historical events to make Americans as the originator of the monster. The stress here is on "historical"

  • March 5, 2007, 11:20 a.m. CST

    Enjoyable Movie Experience

    by MontyPigeon

    Thats going to be ruined by an awful remake by Hollywood. The SFX on the monster alone was better than most things I've seen come from Hollywood. Don't remake it, leave it as it is. Some great scenes throughout and never got bored watching it. It truly is the times when Foreign language films are giving you much more than your typical drab that comes from the Hell that is Hollywood. Props to The Host, it was enjoyable and a good little story too.

  • March 5, 2007, 12:04 p.m. CST

    Don't worry Saluki, we Americans know the truth.

    by where_are_quints_hobbit_set_reports

    The pentagon made it very clear on FOX News the other day, they explained that Iran was definitely the cause of the monster. Our intelligence services have secret evidence that proves it. <p> One of the many good things about this film is the overtones of realpolitik... the US has been a gigantic military presence in South Korea for decades, and in many cases the US treats South Korea as if it were a fiefdom, like Puerto Rico. Why has Bush done nothing about Kim Jong-Il, who is authentically insane and dangerous? Why has Bush in fact propped him up? <p> 1.) N. Korea actually DOES have WMD, and Bush, like all bullies, is a pussy, and <p> 2.) N. Korea is the convenient excuse the US uses for a gigantic military presence in East Asia... uncle sam's got his eyes and ears open. The overdue fall of Kim-Jong Il and the idea of North Korea no longer being at war with South Korea... Korean unity, even... is very threatening to a lot of very rich and powerful people. How do you think Japan would feel, for one?

  • March 5, 2007, 1:11 p.m. CST

    Loved Memories of Murder!

    by cromulent

    Same actor from both movies, and I adore him in the movies he's been in. I liked the more quiet parts of The Host than the actual action scenes. The last scene where they're eating is really touching.

  • March 5, 2007, 2:40 p.m. CST

    Don't remake The Host!!!

    by StovetopStuffin'

    It's sooo good the way it is! A remake is completely unnecessary! Oh, and Memories of Murder is on On Demand, for anyone who wants to watch it. I just saw it this weekend and it is GREAT! It was even better than Zodiac, which I loved.

  • March 5, 2007, 5:36 p.m. CST

    This is a great movie!

    by joeyjojojrshabadoo

    I ordered it off the internet after i heard positive reviews. I hate when Hollywood messes with movies that don't need to be remade or remastered...

  • March 5, 2007, 7:01 p.m. CST

    This Film Was Godawful

    by The Devilled Backscribe

    The first 20 minutes? Wonderful. The park scene alone is a classic. After that, you can switch this movie off. It's an endurance test, that gets progressively stupider as it goes. The crossbow athlete girl? What were they thinking?! The lack of logic of the creature's eating habits...sorry, but this is a woolly, stupid movie. You want an intelligent foreign-language monster flick, go rewatch "Brotherhood Of The Wolf". Okay, the FX are nowhere near as accomplished, but at least the filmmaking is superior. Failing that, almost ANYTHING from the U.S in the 50s (and that includes "The Deadly Mantis" and "The Giant Claw", both of which this movie weirdly feels like.) This movie has been so overhyped here, it's really not funny anymore.

  • March 5, 2007, 9:10 p.m. CST

    Devilled Backscribe

    by where_are_quints_hobbit_set_reports

    Judging by your "nom de talkbacke", I would think you would appreciate unconventional horror movies. One of the things The Host does well is setting up genre cliches and then defying the audience's expectations of them. I mean, I don't think The Host is the be-all and end-all, but it is definitely an interesting and thoughtful take on just the kind of 50s monster movies (among other things) you mention. I thought it was refreshing and full of interesting, cool surprises. Though if you're complaining about the lack of logic in the monster's eating habits, maybe I'm wasting my time...

  • March 6, 2007, 7:20 p.m. CST

    AvengingFist, The Monster Isn't Real

    by Saluki

    But the dumping of chemicals that leads to the making of the monster was. In the movie, an American orders the dumping to happen. In real life, a Korean on an American Base did the dumping, and their was a gigantic uproar. Of course, other Korean companies dumped 10x as much in the river, but they weren't Americans, so no press.

  • March 6, 2007, 7:24 p.m. CST

    Daddylonghead & Realpolitik

    by Saluki

    Hey, political overtones are fine, but making up stuff like this just isn't needed. It was a bit funny to see the actors that played the Americans (one was Canadian) were then investigated and kicked out of the country. Very funny.

  • March 8, 2007, 10:10 p.m. CST

    Poor misrepresented America

    by birdmocker

    Because American movies have never distorted facts or portrayed other countries too negatively, right? This movie's political implications aren't even that bad, and yet, I know there's going to be thousands of poor, offended Americans whining that our military could never do anything remotely unethical. And Saluki, of course American pollution would get the press, it's foreigners polluting a country they don't have to live in! By the way, I'm an American. I like free speech and I don't mind other countries besides ours getting to exercise it. It's a movie for god's sake.

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