By Paolo Bertolin
CANNEs - "The Host" is a real masterpiece and Bong Joon-ho
is one of the greatest directors in the world. That is how Olivier Père, the director of the Cannes Film Festival selection Quinzaine des Realisateurs (Directors' Fortnight), introduced director Bong at his meeting with the audience, right after a triumphal screening of his film.
"The Host" (Korean title Goemul, i.e. Monster) was by far the most eagerly awaited film selected at Quinzaine, and the two sole screenings, a midnight show on Sunday and an afternoon presentation on Monday, both played to a Full House
, leaving a large number of critics and people outside. In a festival that reserved more than a few burning disappointments, especially from ambitious Hollywood fare (such as curtain-raiser "The Da Vinci Code" or competing entries like Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" or Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales"), Bong's follow-up to international cult hit "Memories of Murder
" was one of the few works that met the high expectations of the press and audience.
"As a director, I always try to break the conventions and rules of genre, as I myself as a viewer have mixed feelings about genre movies: I love them, but at the same I hate them because of their predictable conventions", declared Bong on his approach towards filmmaking. His third feature film is no exception to that pattern. As Derek Elley from Variety observed, "On almost every level, there's never quite been a monster movie like `The Host'".
Hugely satisfying and entertaining, Bong's film centres on the fight of the Park family to rescue its youngest member, Hyeon-seo, who has been kidnapped by a mutant monster emerging from the waters of the Han River in Seoul. However the film detaches itself from being a mere horror movie as burlesque and drama aptly contaminate the formula. "Egregiously subverting its own genre while still delivering shocks at a pure genre level, and marbled with straight-faced character humour that constantly throws the viewer off-balance", epitomizes Elley, "The Host is a bold game that looks headed to instant cult status".
"The slapstick comedy elements in my film contribute to giving rhythm, but perhaps they also provide a more realistic side to the whole story", commented Bong on the genre-bending of his film, adding "Slapstick humour in my films is never intended in the first place, as some gags just come out naturally, during the shooting". The French left-wing newspaper Liberation stressed this remarkable feature of Bong's style, as Didier Peron wrote, "Contrary to Hollywood productions, the film allows itself relevant stylistic deviations and does not forcibly search for a happy ending".
"In `The Host' I have worked mostly with actors with whom I had already worked in previous movies, such as Song Kang-ho
, Park Hae-il
and Bae Doona
", said Bong on his cast, "therefore, it was easier to share with them my ideas: when I was writing the script, I already thought of whom would play the roles; on set we had grown a strong relationship, with just one look they knew what I wanted, and vice versa". Song's mature performance drew special praise. "He's the only contemporary Korean actor capable of playing with such conviction a character who seems to be permanently on the verge between ordinariness and slightly retarded".
The full-blown achievements of "The Host triggered praising comparisons, such as Isabelle Regnier's of the leading French newspaper Le Monde: "Its author displays a brilliant critique of the contemporary epoch with inventiveness and exuberance that remind those of Kubrick's "Doctor Strangelove"'.
"When I make a movie I never really calculate whether it is commercial or artistic", asserted Bong when asked about his ability to bridge mainstream formulas and creativity, "to me there is no distinction between the two categories, I just try to make movies that I would like to watch as a spectator".
The response in Cannes proved that Bong's method works, and might be taken as good premonition for The Host's commercial and critical future. Concluding his review on Screen Daily, Allan Hunter even conjectured that "Someone is bound to consider 'The Host' as remake potential for a wider Western audience". In the meantime, the Korean release of Bong's film is scheduled for July, while international sales proceed at a brisk pace.