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Monster Film Success Soothes S. Korea's Worried Cinema Industry

2006/08/16 Source

A rare monster film is blazing a trail in South Korea's cinema history, drawing record audiences and bolstering a local movie industry being weaned from decades of a protective screen quota.

The Host, directed by a daring 37-year-old producer Bong Joon-Ho, pulled in eight million viewers as of Friday last week after it was released 16 days earlier at 620 cinemas across South Korea, according to the film's distributor, Showbox.

The film slashed nine days off the previous record time to pull in eight million viewers which was set by "Taegukgi", a 2004 big-budget domestic film featuring two brothers whose lives were ravaged by the Korean War.

When director Bong announced plans for the monster film, his third release, his colleagues were "shocked and dismayed", he said.

Bong, who shot to fame in 2003 with "Memories of Murder", a feature about the unsolved case of a serial killer in 1986, was considered by some to be selling out his art-house roots.

"I don't care whether my film should be an art movie or a commercial movie. I just make a film because I want to see it myself as a viewer and because others don't make it for me to see", Bong told journalists.

The Host revolves around an ordinary family who are forced to struggle against great odds and non-cooperative bureaucrats to rescue their daughter, kidnapped by a monster living in the Han River that flows across Seoul.

Starring Song Kang-Ho, who played the leading role as an eager but hapless detective in "Memories of Murder", The Host is a far cry from Hollywood monster films in terms of budget and spectacle. But its solid storytelling, blended with director Bong's particular brand of humor and satire, has proved its main draw.

The film has no obvious hero, focusing on weak individuals struggling against formidable odds to rescue their loved one from the monster. This creature, which never overwhelms the screen in a way such as other monsters such as Godzilla, is a mutant spawned by toxic waste released from a US military morgue here.

Bong said he got the idea from a 2000 incident in which US military officers released toxic waste into the river, sparking anger and stoking anti-US sentiment.

But he denied the film was intended to deliver anti-US or environmentalist messages.

"I wanted to make a different monster film which has no superhero but weak and ordinary people struggling to protect those who are weaker than themselves", Bong said.

The Host received favourable reviews at the Cannes Film Festival in May and has been exported to 11 countries including the United States as well as elsewhere in Asia and Europe.

So Jung-Hyun, a 29-year-old math teacher, said she was moved by the film, which she said had broken new ground for local films.

"I was overcome with family love there. I've never seen a film like this. My Brother also saw it the day after I saw it", she said.

But other viewers said they were disappointed.

"I was disappointed. The format was not so thrilling and computer graphics were flawed", said a 22-year-old biology student as he and his girlfriend were leaving a cinema in downtown Seoul.

"I think the film's box office success was largely due to the tendency of South Korean viewers who blindly follow the crowd, relying only on mass opinions", said the student, as his girlfriend, locking arms with him, nodded her consent. (Agence France Presse)

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