AFM /AFI FEST REPORT #4: THE HOST
The acclaimed South Korean blockbuster comes to America in 2007
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Magnolia Pictures, AFI Fest, MPRM, The Orphanage, Twitch, various
Special Thanks to Kim Song-ho (aka ‘Loomis’) for Translations and Information
THE HOST (Gwoemul)
Production: Chungeorahm Film
Domestic Distribution: Showbox, Released July 27, 2006
International Sales: Cineclick Asia
US Distributor: Magnolia Pictures, Release March 9, 2007
Korean with English Subtitles, 119 minutes
Official Site (Korea): The Host
Official Site (US): The Host Movie
AFI Fest Screening: Friday, November 3, 10:00pm, and Saturday, November 4, 1:00pm at ArcLight Cinemas, Hollywood
SPOILER WARNING: The following review contains plot details for a new film.
As it has done for ages, the Han River continues to pierce the very center of the capital city Seoul. But one day in the year 2000…Through an unfortunate incident, a creature of an obscure nature is conceived in the waters of the river. As the creature slowly starts to grow in the depths of the river, people fail to sense signs of an impending disaster, devoting themselves to the Korea-Japan World Cup soccer finals, the President elections and to their individual lives. Then one day in 2005, in front of countless citizens taking a stroll and enjoying the weekend on the banks of the Han River, the creature reveals itself in a shocking display of horror.
And mass slaughter…in an instant, the riverbank is turned into a gruesome sea of blood. The main character Gang-du is a man who passes tedious days operating a snack bar next to the river. On that day of great destruction, he witnesses his one and only daughter Hyun-seo eaten up by the creature right before his eyes.
The sudden appearance of unforeseen and unexpected circumstances renders the government and state powerless to act… And the once-ordinary citizen Gang-du and his family are thrust into a battle with the monster to rescue Hyun-seo. On the banks of the river, which are completely closed off by the government and declared a danger zone, Gang-du and his family rush into an unstoppable showdown with the monster. –Official synopsis for THE HOST
In 2004, Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho began work on a project he called THE RIVER (Gang). Early in production, the film was renamed GWOEMUL (“Creature” or “Monster”). Internationally, it would be known as THE HOST.
In 2006, THE HOST became the highest grossing movie in Korean history and took the top honors at the Korean Film Awards. It was a also a major hit at the Cannes Film Festival and AFI Fest, and was picked up for distribution in more than 30 countries worldwide. A Korean language monster movie has become one of the most talked about and acclaimed films of the year (the American magazine Premiere named THE HOST as one of the “Must See” movies of 2006)… and now it is coming to America.
MAKING THE HOST
Born September 14, 1969 in Daegu (“Korea’s most conservative city” according to the director), Bong Joon-ho grew up in Seoul. He spent much of his childhood watching movies on television, including foreign and American films on the armed forces channel AFKN. After graduating from Yonsei University with a degree in sociology, Bong directed the award-winning 16mm short film WHITE MAN (1994). The following year he made INCOHERENCE as a graduate project for the Korean Academy of Film Arts. INCOHERENCE was selected for several international film festivals, and Bong soon became a professional writer, assistant director, editor, and director of photography on such films as SEVEN REASONS BEER IS BETTER THAN A GIRL (which Bong referred to as “the worst movie ever in Korea”), 2001 IMAGINE, MOTEL CACTUS (Motel Seoninjang, 1997), PHANTOM: THE SUBMARINE (Yuryeong, 1999), and DIE BAD (Jukgeona Hokeun Nabbeugeona, 2000).
He made his feature film directorial debut with BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE (Flandersui Gae, 2000), a critically acclaimed tale of a college lecturer driven to extremes by the constant barking of a neighbor’s dog. His second film, MEMORIES OF MURDER (Salinui Chueok, 2003), was a true crime story detailing the 1986-1991 manhunt for a South Korean serial killer/rapist. MEMORIES OF MURDER was a critical and commercial smash; it was the top film at the Korean box office in 2003 and won Best Movie, Best Director, and Best Actor (for lead performer Song Kang-ho) at that year’s Grand Bell Awards, an annual South Korean Ministry of Culture event that is considered the equivalent of the Academy Awards in America. Bong Joon-ho was also named Best Director at the San Sebastian International Film Festival, and by the International Federation of Film Critics at FIPRESCI in Altadis, Spain.
He next worked on TWENTYIDENTITY (I-Gong, aka 20 DIGITAL SHORT FILM OMNIBUS, 2004), a twentieth anniversary celebration for the Korean Academy of Film Arts. Twenty graduates of the Academy were selected to each make a short movie that refers to the number twenty. Bong directed the segment SINK AND RISE, about a bet over whether or not an egg will float in the Han River. A condensed version of TWENTYIDENTITY (that included SINK AND RISE) was shown at international film festivals in 2004-05, with the complete collection released as a 2-DVD set in 2005.
With his first two films, Bong Joon-Ho had achieved the critical and commercial success most filmmakers can only dream of. The director had established himself with dramas that included a touch of black comedy, so when he announced his next project would be a monster movie the reaction was decidedly mixed. Monsters had never been a popular genre in Korea, and only a few films like YONGARY, MONSTER FROM THE DEEP (Daekoesu Yonggary, 1967) and A*P*E (King Kongui Daeyeokseub, 1976) had been made on the subject. The last major monster movie had been Hyung-Rae Shim’s much-hyped remake of YONGGARY (a.k.a. REPTILIAN, 1999), which had been a dismal failure. [Please see AFM /AFI FEST REPORT #2: D-WAR for more on YONGGARY.] “There are a whole lot of prejudices about creature movies, that they are just childish or just sci-fi,” Bong said. “And when they heard I was making THE HOST, people I knew were even more worried. ‘Why do you need to make a film about creatures, do you want to leave a stain on your career?’ I heard a lot of things like that, and people were really prejudiced against it. But I think those preconceptions ended up stimulating me even more.”
The director had his reasons for taking the creative risk to make a Korean monster movie. “I’ve always been a fan of creature films, especially Godzilla,” he explained. “But what inspired me to make it was imagining what it would be like if the Loch Ness monster lived in the Han River.” That idea came from something he had witnessed first-hand in 1987: “When I was in High School, I lived in in an Apartment complex near Chamshil, and you could see the intersection of Chamshil Bridge from my room’s window. I was just a young man, so I’d often blankly stare from my window for a few moments. One day I saw a strange black moving object climb one of the bridge’s pillars and then fall in the water, that became the basic idea for this film. That day I promised myself to make a film about this if I became a director, at all costs. I guess seeing a monster in my living environment was really exciting.”
Bong Joon-ho signed to make THE HOST with producer Choi Yong-bae and Chungeorahm Film, a company that had distributed hits like A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (Janghwa, Hongryeon, 2003) before moving into film production with THE PRESIDENT’S BARBER (Hyojadong Ibalsa, 2004). The film’s budget was set at 11 billion won (approximately $11 million US).
In October 2004, the film was officially announced at the ninth annual Pusan International Film Festival. By the end of the festival, Chungeorahm had signed a major investment deal with Happinet Pictures of Japan. “I kept loading up raw fish and soju on our Japanese buyers, which made them really happy,” said Lewis Kim, a line producer for the film. In total, Happinet invested $4.7 million (US) in exchange for Japanese rights to the movie.
Much of the crew from MEMORIES OF MURDER, including director of cinematography Kim Hyung-goo (BEAT, SPRING IN MY HOME TOWN, ONE FINE SPRING DAY), lighting directors Lee Gang-san and Jeong Young-min, and art director Ryu Seong-hee (OLD BOY, A BITTERSWEET LIFE) returned to work on the new film. The crew spent months scouting locations along the Han River, and Bong revised the script to incorporate specific aspects of the environments they would be filming in.
The music for THE HOST was composed by Lee Beyong-woo. Lee is responsible for the soundtracks to many of Korea’s top films in recent years; his credits include the horror anthology THREE (Saam Gaang, released internationally as THREE… EXTREMES II, 2002), A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, UNTOLD SCANDAL (Scandal: Joseon Namnyeo Sangyeoljisa, 2003), RULES OF DATING, THE RED SHOES (Bunhongsin, 2005) and THE KING AND THE CLOWN (Wang-ui Namja, 2005).
Much as GODZILLA (Gojira, 1954) was in part based on the aftermath of the Bikini H-bomb test, THE HOST was inspired by actual events. In 2000, the staff members of a US military morgue were arrested for dumping hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde into the Han River. The incident sparked a huge outcry from the Korean people, and the ramifications are still being felt as the US continues to return military bases over to South Korea. In THE HOST, the Creature is a mutation caused by exposure to these chemicals; making the film topical for its target audience as well as a continuation of the “monster created by man’s abuse of nature” concept so familiar to the genre.
At the beginning of the film, a US military pathologist named Douglas (Scott Wilson) orders his subordinate Kim (Kim Hak-sun) to illegally pour dozens of bottles of chemicals into the sink, where the chemicals are washed into the Han River. Not long after, two fishermen catch a tiny, multi-tailed creature, but it manages to escape into the river after biting one of the men. Time passes. A suicidal businessman spots something large in the Han River moments before he leaps from a bridge to his death.
Park Hee-bong (Byun Hee-bong) owns a food stand in the Han River Park. His son Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) helps to run the snack shop when he is not busy sleeping or eating off of customers’ orders. Gang-du is the stereotypical “child who never grew up”… lazy and self-absorbed, he is far more immature than his 12 year old daughter Hyun-seo (Ko A-sung).
While delivering a food order, Gang-du notices a crowd has gathered along the bank of the river. They are watching a strange, cocoon-looking object that hangs from beneath a bridge. The object uncurls, drops into the river, and slowly makes it way to the shoreline. People begin tossing food and cans of beer into the river, and the items are snapped up by a tentacle-like appendage that darts up from underwater. Suddenly, a massive creature— the size of a bus and resembling a deformed tadpole— lunges onshore and attacks the crowd.
Gang-du runs for his life, but an American soldier (David Joseph Anselmo) convinces him to help rescue some people who have been cornered by the Creature. The pair attack the beast with a street sign, and Gang-du is splattered with the animal’s blood. The Creature fights back, mauling the soldier and Gangu-du flees once again. Spotting his daughter in the crowd, Gangu-du grabs her by the wrist and drags her after him with the Creature not far behind. He falls, reaches out blindly for his daughter, and stumbles to his feet. Looking back, Gangu-du realizes he is holding onto a stranger. He turns to see the Creature grab Hyun-seo with it’s tail and dive back into the river.
A memorial is set up for victims of the Creature. Park siblings Nam-il (Park Hae-il) and Nam-joo (Bae Doo-na) join their father and brother, but Nam-il soon accuses Gang-du of failing to protect his daughter. The argument turns to hysterics, all of which is captured on video by the local press right before the military arrives and quarantines everyone over concerns that the Creature is the host for an unknown and deadly virus.
Officials evacuate the riverfront area and the military moves in with chemical weapons. While in hospital quarantine, Gang-du receives a call on his cellphone from Hyun-seo… his daughter is not dead, but held captive in the beast’s lair. Before the signal fades Hyun-seo says she is somewhere in the miles of underground sewage and maintenance tunnels that run along the Han River. Gang-du tries to convince the authorities that his daughter must be rescued, but they suspect he’s delusional and ignore his pleas. Now the Park family must find a way to escape the facility, make their way back to the river, and find Hyun-seo before the Creature returns for another feeding…
CAST AND CHARACTERS
Byun Hee-bong plays Park Hee-bong, head of the Park family. Loving but quick-tempered, Hee-bong raised three children on his own, which resulted in a rather dysfunctional family. He runs a food stand in the Han River Park with his eldest son Gang-du, but spends most of his time complaining about his son’s laziness and poor work ethic.
The 64 year old Byun is well known to Korean audiences for his work in the police series THE CHIEF. After several years away from the camera, Byun returned with supporting roles in numerous films and television shows, including VOLCANO HIGH (2001), DAWN OF THE EMPIRE (Jegukui Achim, 2002), FEMALE DETECTIVE DAMO (Damo, 2003), SCENT OF CHRYSANTHEMUMS (Gukhwaggot Hyanggi, 2003), AU REVOIR, UFO (Annyeong UFO, 2004), and CRYING FIST (Jumeogi Unda, 2005). Byun also appeared in Bong Joon-Ho’s BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE, MEMORIES OF MURDER and TWENTYIDENTITY. His memorable performance in MEMORIES OF MURDER brought Byun back into the public eye, so he leapt at the chance to work with Bong again on THE HOST.
Song Kang-ho plays the lead character in THE HOST, Park Gang-du, single father of a young girl. Bong Joon-ho described Gang-du as “A pathetic father in front of his daughter… How can I describe him, a big child?”
After graduating from Kimhae High School, Song Kang-ho studied acting and improvisation at theater company run by Kee Kuk-seo. He made his acting debut with a small role in THE DAY THE PIG FELL INTO THE WELL (Daijiga Umule Pajinnal, 1996). Following more small parts in a handful of films, Song played a stuttering gangster training a group of young recruits in the comedy NO. 3 (1997). His improvised, ad-libbed performance earned him a legion of fans and his first Grand Bell Award for Best Actor.
Song had a major role in the international hit SHIRI (Swiri, 1991) that allowed him to show off his dramatic acting ability. He followed that with his first lead role in the blockbuster THE FOUL KING (Banchikwang, 2000), an award-winning performance in JOINT SECURITY AREA (Gongdong Gyeongbi Guyeok JSA, 2000), and the thriller SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE (Boksuneun Naui Geot, 2002). In 2003, he first worked with Bong Joon-ho on MEMORIES OF MURDER and won his second Best Actor Award. His recent credits have included ANTARCTIC JOURNAL (Namgeuk-ilgi, 2004), SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE (Chinjeolhan Geumjassi, 2005), and the upcoming EVIL LIVE (Bakjwi, 2007).
“What I like about director Bong’s work is that his films are not the kind you just watch once and then leave behind,” Song Kang-ho told The New York Times. “You find a different attraction every time you watch them. Whenever I work with director Bong, it’s always delightful to share his way of looking at the world. It’s quite extraordinary.”
“Dyeing his hair yellow was Song’s idea,” Bong explained. “This penniless guy tries to dye his hair once, but then as time goes on he never takes care of it, his hair grow and it all turns into a big mess. It felt like someone trying to follow fashion in some way, but not being able to get it right.”
The part of second son and former student radical Park Nam-il is played by Park Hae-il. Nam-il is the only member of the Park family to graduate from college, but he can’t find a job and is constantly complaining and getting drunk. According to Bong Joon-ho, the character “leads a pathetic existence inside this family, always cursing out other people, whining, a bit grouchy but also cute in a way. The character’s model was actually a friend of mine.”
Starting with WAIKIKI BROTHERS (2001), Park Hae-il has made a name for himself in dramas and romantic comedies like the award-winning JEALOUSY IS MY MIDDLE NAME (Jiltuneun Naui Him, 2002), SCENT OF CHRYSANTHEMUMS, MY MOTHER THE MERMAID (Ineo Gongju, 2004), and THE RULES OF DATING (Yeonae-ui Mokjeok, 2005). He also appeared in Bong’s MEMORIES OF MURDER.
Bae Doo-na plays Park Nam-joo, younger sister of Gang-du and Nam-il. Nam-joo is a member of the Korean national archery team, but a lack of confidence often causes her to freeze up during competition. Unlike her brothers, she is always clear-headed and focused, and in family situations she usually has the final say.
Born October 11, 1979, Bae Doo-na is the classic “discovered by chance” story; her career began when a modeling agent spotted her walking down a street and offered her a job. She soon turned to acting with a role on the television series SCHOOL, then transitioned to film as the ghostly murderer Eun-suh in THE RING VIRUS (1999), the Korean remake of the J-Horror hit RING (Ringu, 1998). She followed up with BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE, PLUM BLOSSOM (Cheungchun, 2000), TAKE CARE OF MY CAT (Goyangileul Butaghae, 2001), SAVING MY HUBBY (Gudseura Geum-suna, 2002), TUBE (Tyubeu, 2003), and SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE. After taking some time off to concentrate on live theater, Bae returned with the Japanese film LINDA LINDA LINDA (2005) and the 12 part Korean television series SIX LOVE STORIES (Ddeollineun Gaseum, 2005). Bae spent months training with a professional archer to convincingly portray her role in THE HOST. The film marks her first major box office hit. Before THE HOST, Bae was not considered a particularly marketable actress in spite of her many fine performances and remarkable filmography.
Bae’s SIX LOVE STORIES co-star Ko A-sung makes her film debut in THE HOST. The 14 year old plays Park Hyun-seo, daughter of Gang-du. “She may be youngest of the family, but she’s also the wisest and smartest character,” Bong Joon-ho explained. “Because of her irresponsible father, she had to grow up quicker than most people her age.” Unlike the cliched ‘damsel in distress’, the resourceful Hyun-seo doesn’t just sit around waiting to be rescued from the Creature, but decides to take matters into her own hands.
The strong supporting cast includes some Korean stars and recognizable American faces. The US military pathologist named Douglas is played by Scott Wilson. Wilson is a popular character actor in America, having appeared in such well-known films as IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967), IN COLD BLOOD (1967), THE GREAT GATSBY (1974), THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980), THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), and MONSTER (2003). In recent years he has had a recurring role as ‘Sam Braun’ on the hit television series CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION.
Douglas’ assistant Kim is played by Kim Hak-sun, an actor/director whose credits include TURNING GATE (Saenghwalui Balgyeon, 2002) and REWIND (Videoreul Boneun Namja, 2003). The film’s credits list his character as ‘Kim the gunmuwon’, a Korean word for ‘a civilian attached to the military’. At the beginning of THE HOST, Kim is ordered to illegally dump hazardous chemicals that end up in the Han River and lead to the birth of the monster.
Yim Pil-sung plays the heavyset Ttung Guevara, a college friend of Park Nam-il who helps him trace a cell phone call. Yim is a writer/director who made ANTARCTIC JOURNAL, the 2004 film starring THE HOST’s lead actor Song Kang-ho. He is also a good friend of director Bong Joon-ho. His character’s name seems to be a combination of ‘a ttungbo’ (a Korean word for ‘fatso’) and Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.
An unnamed homeless man assists the Park family during their final confrontation with the Creature. The role was played by Yun Je-mun, a stage actor who also appeared in the films ANTARCTIC JOURNAL, YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE (Neoneun Nae Unmyeong, 2005), and A DIRTY CARNIVAL (Biyeolhan Geori, 2006).
Paul Lazar plays an American scientist who appears supportive of the Park family but may have a hidden agenda. Lazar has been a regular performer for Jonathan Demme, appearing in the director’s MARRIED TO THE MOB (1988), SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), and PHILADELPHIA (1993). His other credits include LORENZO’S OIL (1992), TRAPPED IN PARADISE (1994), MICKEY BLUE EYES (1999), and the upcoming ANAMORPH (2007).
Two young orphan boys are attacked by the Creature while stealing food. They are brothers Se-jin and Se-ju, played respectively by Lee Jae-eung and Lee Dong-ho. The older Lee Jae-eung also appeared at the beginning of MEMORIES OF MURDER; Bong Joon-ho liked his performance in that film so much that he cast him again for THE HOST.
Canadian actor David Joseph Anselmo played Sgt. Donald, an American soldier who helps Park Gang-du battle the monster early in the movie. Agent Yellow is played by Clinton Morgan, an actor from the television mini-series MEMORIES OF BALI (Ballieseo Saengkin Il, 2004) and the film WELCOME TO DONGMAKGOL (2005). Rounding out the cast are Bong alumni Go Soo-hee (BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE), Kim Roi-ha (BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE, MEMORIES OF MURDER), and Park No-shik (MEMORIES OF MURDER).
The most expensive performer in THE HOST would be the Creature itself. More than two years and $4 million were spent on bringing the monster to the screen. Bong Joon-ho stressed that the Creature should be realistic as opposed to just huge and terrifying; while mutated and deformed, the animal still needed to come across as something that could actually exist in the real world. “People look at the 63 Building [the 817 foot tall Daehan Life Insurance Building] and expect some kind of gigantic Godzilla thing, but the bigger the monster becomes, the more people would get the tendency to treat this as a film for kids (laughs). So the bigger the monster was, the less realistic it would have been, and more importantly, it wouldn’t be able to move as dynamically as this one does, so I wanted to make it small. Then again if it was too big, where would it possibly hide?”
The first character concept sketches were drawn in December 2003 by designer Jang Hee-chul. Jang spent more than a year researching all manner of fish and amphibians in order to create a believable animal that could live both on land and in water. “Towards the middle-final portion of production the face’s design was much uglier and even a little funny,” Bong explained. “The monster’s face looked a lot like Steve Buscemi, in some ways. As it could have made things a little too comical we decided to give up on it, but it had a very rustic feel, something like a hyena, very sneaky and mean-spirited.” The Creature went thru over 1000 different designs before the final look was selected.
Once the Creature’s design was settled on, the producers turned to Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop (LORD OF THE RINGS, KING KONG), The Orphanage (SIN CITY, SUPERMAN RETURNS, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST) in San Francisco, and John Cox’s Creature Workshop (PITCH BLACK, BABE, PETER PAN) to bring the beast to cinematic life. “Our ambition was to deliver a high-end monster movie that will appeal to audiences worldwide,” said Lewis Kim of Chungeorahm Film. “The way to guarantee the quality was to select the best effects elements from around the world.”
The Weta crew sculpted detailed maquettes of the Creature that were digitally scanned and used to create the CG model, and the staff at John Cox built life-sized animatronic models of the beast. The Orphanage handled all the computer generated effects and composited all the material from the various fx houses. The Orphanage’s Kevin Rafferty was in charge of supervising the film’s visual effects. Rafferty, whose credits include THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997), STAR WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999), THE PERFECT STORM (2000), and MEN IN BLACK II (2002), was intrigued with the idea of working on the Korean film. “At first when they offered me the project I didn’t really know much about director Bong Joon-ho. So I bought and watched BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE and MEMORIES OF MURDER, and accepted the offer right away,” he said. “Right now Hollywood films create huge visual effects, but they have the tendency not to really make monster films. This film really attracted me because it was made with that kind of excitement, like a real monster film. The moment I saw Jang Hee-chul’s monster designs, my expectations for the film rose exponentially.”
The Orphanage crew studied the movements of crocodiles, whales, and monkeys to realistically depict how the Creature would swim and move. They also turned to previous movie monsters for inspiration: “We looked at the T-Rex in JURASSIC PARK and how it walked on its two feet, its size and weight,” said Rafferty. The studio completed the final CG effects in May 2006.
The final step was to create convincing sounds for the Creature. Just as actor Andy Serkis’ voice provided the foundation for King Kong in the 2005 remake, the vocalizations for the Creature were provided by Oh Dal-su, an actor who appeared in such films as THE PRESIDENT’S BARBER, SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE, and A BLOODY ARIA (Guta Yubalja Deul, 2006).
THE HOST GOES GLOBAL
Cineclick Asia picked up foreign sales rights to the film in June 2005 and began marketing it to international buyers. A rough cut of the film was premiered during the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2006. “Actually the version shown at Cannes wasn’t the complete one, so it’s true it wasn’t really a World Premiere in that sense,” Bong said. “Since we don’t have to do the editing again, it’s still the same 1 Hour 54 Minutes version we showed at Cannes, but we’re still in post-production. We’re fixing details regarding sound effects and Computer Graphics”. Even so, Variety called THE HOST “arguably the hit of the festival”, and the response was so overwhelming that Cineclick added extra screenings to meet demand. $2.3 million in foreign distribution rights were sold during the fest.
Distributor Showbox Entertainment released THE HOST in Korea. On July 27, 2006, the film opened on 620 theater screens (more than 1/3 of all screens in South Korea) and smashed the country’s all-time box office admissions record for an opening weekend. 2.63 million tickets were sold in the first four days for a take of $17.2 million US. THE HOST also topped the one day record of 590,000 admissions set by TAE GUK GI (Taegukgi Hwinalrimyeo, aka THE BROTHERHOOD OF WAR, 2004) with 792,762 tickets sold on the first Saturday.
Within 38 days THE HOST had sold 12.27 million tickets to become the top box office draw in Korea’s history, easily surpassing the previous #1 film THE KING AND THE CLOWN’s 12.3 million total admissions in 112 days. After five weeks at #1, the number of screens showing THE HOST was cut to 280 and the film was bumped from the top spot by the Korean premiere of Shinji Higuchi’s SINKING OF JAPAN (Nihon Chinbotsu, 2006). By the end of it’s theatrical run, the film had sold over 14 million tickets for a box office of more than $84 million.
On November 20, THE HOST won Best Picture, Best Director, Special Effects, Lighting, Cinematography, and Sound at the 2006 Korean Film Awards. The MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation) sponsored event is one of several award programs leading up to the Grand Bell Awards next spring.
Starting at Cannes, Cineclick sold all rights to THE HOST for 35 countries. J-Bics released the film in Thailand on September 7, and it opened in Taiwan and Malaysia on September 15. November saw THE HOST come to France (courtesy of Ocean Films) and Spain (from Notro Films). Discovery Films released the picture in the former Yugoslavia, Providence handled Brazil and Argentina, and Gussi Films distributed the movie in Mexico. Cineclick distributed THE HOST themselves in Singapore and Malaysia in September, and production company Chungeorahm Film handled the film’s release in Hong Kong on September 14.
Happinet Pictures signed a distribution deal with Kadokawa Herald Pictures, and the film was released on 250 screens across Japan. Perhaps not surprisingly, THE HOST did not do well in a country where the recent monster movies GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (2004), KING KONG (2005), and GAMERA THE BRAVE (Chiisaki Yusha-tachi Gamera, 2006) all underperformed at the box office.
Magnolia Pictures acquired rights for the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. “THE HOST has the potential to become a classic of the genre,” said Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles. “The creature is one of the most impressive and imaginative movie monsters I’ve seen in a long time.” Magnolia partnered with Optimum Releasing to distribute the film in Britain on November 10, and Madman Cinema in Australia on March 8, 2007.
COMING TO AMERICA… TWICE!
The US theatrical release is scheduled for March 9, 2007. In the meantime, Magnolia has been screening THE HOST at various film festivals around the country, starting with Fantastic Fest in Alamo, TX on September 25. The film was shown in Hollywood, CA in early November during the 20th annual AFI Fest. Both AFI screenings were sold out in advance, with long standby lines of Fest attendees waiting for any unused tickets. Anticipation for THE HOST has been steadily built by months of news updates, record ticket sales, glowing reviews, and online video previews. Could the film possibly live up to the hype?
The answer is a definite “Yes”.
THE HOST gets off to a somewhat shaky start with a heavy-handed scene of the American waste chemicals being dumped into the Han River. The sequence is about as subtle as a brick to the head. But from that point on, THE HOST becomes one of the best monster movies in many, many years.
Bong Joon-ho and his cast and crew have crafted a first-rate piece of entertainment. The film is smart, touching, sad, and scary (there are some great “jump out of your seat” moments… something sorely lacking in most recent horror films). The film touches on several current and recent events such as America’s role in South Korea, the SARS scare, and the government’s indifference to the average person. It is also very funny. Bong is known for infusing his work with a rather dark and ironic sense of humor, and that is definitely on display in THE HOST. Thankfully, the humor never diminishes the Park family’s plight or the Creature’s menace, but simply adds another level of enjoyment to the story.
One of the strongest points of THE HOST is that the central characters are not soldiers or scientists or the typically heroic standards of so many other films. The Parks are an ordinary family, and a rather dysfunctional one at that. With no one to turn to, they have to rely on each other to save a loved one… and the results are not what you might expect.
The Creature itself is treated like an animal, and behaves in a very realistic manner for movie monster. Sometimes it moves with an almost fluid grace; at other times it clumsily trips over its own feet. By bringing in fx houses like Weta and The Orphanage, the filmmakers were able to create visual effects that equal the majority of American productions.
The AFI audience reacted with overwhelming enthusiasm for THE HOST as well as for director Bong Joon-ho and director of cinematography Kim Hyung-goo, who showed up for a Q&A session after the movie. Kim seemed rather shy and quiet, but did say he was a graduate of the American Film Institute so he was thrilled that one of his films had been chosen to screen there. Bong revealed that the original GODZILLA had been an influence on the tone he tried to set for THE HOST, and that a battle sequence in the rain had been inspired by the finale of Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI (Shichinin no Samurai, 1954). The director also announced that Universal Pictures has bought worldwide English-language remake rights to THE HOST.
Cineclick Asia negotiated the remake deal with Vertigo Entertainment’s Roy Lee (the man responsible for the US remakes of THE RING, THE GRUDGE, PULSE, and the upcoming BATTLE ROYALE) and Doug Davison, plus Paul Brooks of Gold Circle Films. Executive producers Scott Niemeyer and Norm Waitt, and Gold Circle’s senior vice president of production Zak Kadison will oversee the film’s production for Universal. THE HOST remake is tentatively scheduled for 2008.
Regardless, the original Korean version of THE HOST will be available in America first, uncut and undubbed. This is an excellent film that should be seen on the big screen with a packed audience. Do not miss THE HOST if and when it comes to a theater near you.