THE HOST Press Notes and Director’s Interview
The following press notes and interview were provided by Magnolia Pictures for their upcoming release THE HOST, which opens in American theaters on March 9, 2007. The text is © 2006 Magnolia Pictures.
Magnolia Pictures presents THE HOST
Written and Directed by Bong Joon-ho
119 min.; 35mm; 1.85:1; Dolby SRD
The talk of the 2006 Cannes International Film Festival, THE HOST, the latest film from critically acclaimed visionary director Bong Joon-ho, has already garnered a substantial amount of international buzz. Utilizing state-of-the-art special effects courtesy of a creative partnership between Weta Workshop (KING KONG, THE LORD OF THE RINGS) and The Orphanage (HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, SIN CITY), THE HOST is equal parts creature-feature thrill ride and poignant human drama.
Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) works at a food-stand on the banks of the Han River. Dozing on the job, he is awakened by his daughter, Hyun-seo (Ko A-sung), who is angry with him for missing a teacher-parent meeting at school. As Gang-du walks out to the riverbank with a delivery, he notices that a large crowd of people has gathered, taking pictures and talking about something hanging from the Han River Bridge. The otherwise idyllic landscape turns suddenly to bedlam when a terrifying creature climbs up onto the riverbank and begins to crush and eat people. Gang-du and his daughter run for their lives but suddenly the thing grabs Hyun-seo and disappears back into the river. The government announces that the thing apparently is the Host of an unidentified virus. Having feared the worst, Gang-du receives a phone call from his daughter who is frightened, but very much alive. Gang-du makes plans to infiltrate the forbidden zone near the Han River to rescue his daughter from the clutches of the horrifying Host…
The Han River
The River has flown with us and around us.
A fearsome Creature makes a sudden appearance from the depths of this river, so familiar and comfortable for us Seoulites.
The riverbanks are instantly plunged into a bloody chaos.
The film begins at the precise moment in which a space familiar and intimate to us is suddenly transformed into the stage of an unthinkable disaster and tragedy.
Park Gang-du and his family have led ordinary, repetitive lives, never really extending beyond the confines of their small food stand on the banks of the Han River.
They are devastated by the emergence of the Creature.
Robbed of their peaceful daily routines, Gang-du and his family nonetheless throw themselves into a life-and-death struggle against the Creature.
The film shows how these exceedingly normal people, no different from our everyday neighbors, are transformed into monster-fighting warriors.
A Fight to the Death
But the Creature is not the only adversary they have to fight.
For Gang-du and his family, impoverished, powerless “little people,” the whole world around them is revealed to be a true monster.
They have to fight against it tooth and nail.
The film is, in the end, a record of their moving fight to the death against the indifferent, calculating and manipulative Monster known as the world.
-Director Bong Joon-ho
Song Kang-ho (Park Gang-du)
“You wouldn’t need a lot of convincing to see that Song is himself an otherworldly creature, erupting with an awesome level of explosive energy at the least expected moment.”
-Director Bong Joon-ho
Born in 1967, Song Kang-ho’s name enjoys the kind of credibility and bankability among viewers and filmmakers unparalleled by any other actor in Korean cinema. He has never failed to win praise and admiration from both the paying audience and film critics. Song’s faith in Director BONG Joon-ho is so great that he agreed to participate in THE HOST after reading only its synopsis. In the film, SONG plays Gang-du, an immature and simple-minded character. With his hair dyed a tacky yellow and his uncertain posture wrapped up in loose-fitting jumpers bulging at the kneecaps, SONG is set to display yet more unknown aspects of his multifaceted talent.
2005 ANTARCTIC JOURNAL (dir. Yim Pil-sung)
2004 THE PRESIDENT’S BARBER (dir. Lim Charn-sarng)
2003 MEMORIES OF MURDER (dir. Bong Joon-ho)
2002 SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE (dir. Park Chanwook)
2000 FOUL KING (dir. Kim Jee-woon)
2000 JOINT SECURITY AGENCY: JSA (dir. Park Chanwook)
1998 SHIRI (dir. Kang Je-gyu)
1998 THE QUIET FAMILY (dir. Kim Jee-woon)
1997 NO. 3 (dir. Song Neung-han)
1997 GREEN FISH (dir. Lee Chang-dong)
Park Hae-il (Park Nam-il)
“Park is like a battery just taken out of a plastic package. He is so full of incredible energy.”
-Director Bong Joon-ho
Born in 1977, Park Hae-il has commanded attention among viewers and critics since his debut. He has emerged as one of the leading actors among the younger generation, portraying a wide range of characters from a frightening murder suspect to a fresh-faced, naïve youth to a smarmy playboy, garnering critical praise at every turn. Park transforms himself once again, this time into the slightly thuggish Nam-il in THE HOST, his second collaboration with Director BONG Joon-ho, following the magnetic MEMORIES OF MURDER.
2005 RULES OF DATING (dir. Han Jae-rim)
2004 MY MOTHER THE MERMAID (dir. Park Heung-shik)
2003 MEMORIES OF MURDER (dir. Bong Joon-ho)
2002 JEALOUSY IS MY MIDDLE NAME (dir. Park Chan-ok)
2001 WAIKIKI BROTHERS (dir. Im Soon-rye)
Bae Doo-na (Nam-joo)
“To work with an actress like Bae Doo-na, who immerses herself completely in her roles, is a total pleasure for a film director.”
-Director Bong Joon-ho
Born in 1979, Bae Doo-na has proven to be a superb actress who can refashion strong characters in diverse genres in her own image. All of her characters are endowed with her own unique charm. Her commitment to this role is evident from the fact that she practiced archery for three months, in order to prepare for the character of Nam-joo. Bae’s fans might be stunned to see that she has foregone her trademark short hair for a new wavy look, another choice of hers to best illustrate Nam-joo, a strong, silent type. Nam-joo presents an opportunity for this powerhouse actress to take a new interesting direction in building up her already fascinating filmography.
2005 LINDA LINDA LINDA (dir. Nobuhiro Yamashita)
2003 TUBE (dir. Baek Woon-hak)
2002 SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE (dir. Park Chanwook)
2001 TAKE CARE OF MY CAT (dir. Jung Jae-eun)
2000 BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE (dir. Bong Joon-ho)
Ko A-sung (Park Hyun-seo)
“Ko is young, to be sure, but I wouldn’t call her a child actress. She is an ‘actress,’ period.”
-Director Bong Joon-ho
Born in 1992, Ko A-sung attracted attention in the TV drama MURDER OF THE HEART, capturing the hearts of many with her star-making performance. Ko states, in her own words, “I believe to give a performance is to get closest to a character by plunging directly into the role.” In her enthusiasm and energy, not many adult actresses are her match. The character of pretty but brave Hyun-seo in THE HOST serves as her much anticipated screen debut.
Bong Joon-ho (Director)
Bong Joon-ho studied Sociology at the University of Yonsei and graduated from the Korean Film Academy. By 1995 he made three short films MEMORIES IN MY FRAME, WHITE MAN and INCOHERENCE.
He wrote and directed his first feature, BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE, which won a Fipresci Award at the Hong Kong Film Festival in 2001. His second feature MEMORIES OF MURDER won the Silver Shell award for the best director in San Sebastian Film Festival in 2003. In 2006 his third feature film, THE HOST, was selected for the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival.
2004 INFLUENZA (short, Digital Shorts by Three Filmmakers)
2004 SINK AND RISE (short)
2003 MEMORIES OF MURDER
San Sebastian Int’l Film Festival (Official Selection Competition): Silver Shell for Best Director
Altadis- New Director’s Award, FIPRESCI Award
2000 BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE
Hong Kong Int’l Film Festival: FIPRESCI Award
1995 INCOHERENCE (short)
1994 MEMORIES IN MY FRAME (short)
1994 WHITE MAN (short)
Kim Hyun-goo (Cinematographer)
Director of Cinematography Kim Hyung-goo has expanded the horizons of Korean cinema with his continuous experiments in such memorable films as BEAT, SPRING IN MY HOME TOWN, ONE FINE SPRING DAY and MEMORIES OF MURDER. He is a great image-maker capable of capturing flamboyant dynamism and stillness in observation with equal measures of exaction and skill. For THE HOST, Kim has avoided obvious choices such as underwater and airborne photography and instead chosen to concentrate on illustrating the emotional depths of the characters.
Lee Kang-san, Jeong Young-min (Lighting)
Veteran lighting directors with reputations as magicians of light, having created stylized action scenes as well as aesthetically refined visual imagery in the course of their long careers, Lee and Jeong have collaborated with Director of Cinematography KIM Hyung-goo. They join forces with Kim again for the new, ambitious project THE HOST.
Ryu Seong-hee (Production Design)
Production Designer Ryu Seong-hee, having created a distinctive look and atmosphere for such great films as MEMORIES OF MURDER, OLD BOY and A BITTERSWEET LIFE, has been paid perhaps the ultimate compliment for a technical staff member, that her designs are as essential to the movies as their main characters. Ryu claims that she always agonizes over the borderline between reality and fantasy, and has seized upon THE HOST as a perfect chance to depict the tensions generated by the strange, phantasmagorical presence of the Creature amidst the very realistic and mundane space of contemporary Seoul.
Byeongwoo Lee (Music)
Composer Byeongwoo Lee is a premier guitarist in Korea as well as a film composer who has worked in a variety of genres. Lyrical, melodious and sturdy, Lee’s music has been touted as having opened a gate toward new possibilities for Korean film music. He also enjoys a reputation as a top-ranked adapter and music director. For THE HOST, we can expect a unique take by Lee on the tragic-comic, bizarre story of the Creature from the Han River disrupting the lives of the ordinary people.
Chungeorahm Film (Production Company)
Chungeorahm Film, founded in 2001, is the only company in the movie industry that focuses exclusively on Korean films. It began as a distributor of Korean films. Since producing THE PRESIDENT’S BARBER in 2004, it has quickly grown to become one of the leading film production and investment companies in South Korea. Chungeorahm Film endeavors to develop partnerships to co-produce and co-finance various projects with international marketability. The most recent such project is THE HOST, directed by Bong Joon-ho (MEMORIES OF MURDER), which was co-financed by Happinet Co. of Japan.
The Orphanage (Visual Effects and Animation)
A special effects shop founded by former members of Industrial Light and Magic, The Orphanage has drawn raves for their startling effects design for the blockbusters THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and SIN CITY. Most recently they have provided fantastic screen magic for HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE and SUPERMAN RETURNS. Its staff members were immediately taken by the pre-production conceptual arts guided by Director Bong Joon-ho and expressed their enthusiasm for the project. As they claim, “We’re so glad to be the ones who breathe life into this creature and to have a chance to show great visuals. Everybody here in The Orphanage is so excited for the fact that we could take part in this great project THE HOST.” The Orphanage is hard at work, making use out of 3-D scanning data constructed at the Weta Workshop as well as filmed footage with live actors to create a living, breathing Creature, complete with detailed, realistic movements and a rich surface texture.
Kevin Rafferty (VFX Supervisor)
Kevin Rafferty has demonstrated his supervisory skills in a series of special effects extravaganzas including STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE, JURASSIC PARK, SHARK TALE and MEN IN BLACK II. Having been converted to Bong Joon-ho fandom after MEMORIES OF MURDER on DVD, he claims to have read THE HOST screenplay twice in one seating without a break. About THE HOST, he has this to say: “Unlike other clichéd Hollywood films, it is very interesting but at the same time challenging because I’ve never done a project with this kind of uniqueness, and that’s exactly the point from which all the beauty of this project evolves.” Closely collaborating with Director Bong from the pre-production stage onward, Rafferty has stayed in Korea and devoted himself to coordinating the scenes filmed in Korea with the special effects shots developed at The Orphanage, carefully matching the tonality of each and every scene. Rafferty does not hide his enthusiasm for THE HOST: I’m so lucky and honored to have a chance to work with a great director like Bong Joon-ho.”
Weta Workshop (Scannable Maquette Production)
The New Zealand-based Weta Workshop has given birth to a legend of its own, winning three Oscars in a row with its innovative and meticulous special effects for the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and KING KONG. For THE HOST, Weta is given responsibility for constructing exceedingly detailed and realistic miniature models of the Creature, which in turn served as a cornerstone for the digital and optical effects to be added later. Weta members have a good deal of confidence in the quality of their works for THE HOST: “What the crew of THE HOST achieved within two years is equivalent to what Weta Workshop had to spend money and time on for the last 17 years. The design of the Creature itself speaks for it all, and its quality is at a level that any top quality VFX guru will acknowledge.”
John Cox’s Creature Workshop (Creature Animatronix Construction)
The Australian-based John Cox and co. have previously won an Oscar with the delightful family fantasy BABE, and have also contributed numerous creatures to such high-profile projects as PETER PAN. The Workshop members have constructed realistic, life-sized models for the savage Creature in THE HOST. They have expressed strong faith in Director Bong’s ability, commenting, “Bong is original and active. It’s an unforgettable experience for us to work with this great director who knows how to control the set with a clear vision for each and every shot.”
Jang Hee-chul (Creature Design)
Jang is responsible for conceptualizing the Creature. He has overseen all facets and stages of the creature design ranging from the Creature’s outer look to the manners in which it moves its body, for two years, starting at the point when the screenplay was completed in December 2003. Jang has conducted extensive research in documentaries and monographs, looking into staggering variety of fish and amphibians species, to come up with a realistic design for a creature traversing both land and water, and equipped with a flexible, deadly tail and robust legs. The final design for the Creature was approved after one year and four months spent on countless trail and error. “I feel like a parent giving birth to a child,” Jang says. His task was not complete with the design itself, however. He joined the special effects team in a collaborative partnership, advising the latter in their painstaking construction of the magnificently unique product of imagination, the like if which has not been seen in any previous science fiction or horror film.
Park Kang-du: SONG Kang-ho
Park Hee-bong: BYUN Hee-bong
Park Nam-il: PARK Hae-il
Park Nam-joo: BAE Doo-na
Park Hyun-seo: KO A-sung
Director: BONG Joon-ho
Screenplay: BONG Joon-ho, HAH Joon-won, BAEK Chul-hyun
Original Story: BONG Joon-ho
Producer: CHOI Yong-bae
Executive Producers: CHOI Yong-bae, KIM Woo-taek, JEONG Tae-sung
Co-Producer: JOH Neung-yeon
Cinematography: KIM Hyung-goo
Lighting: LEE Kang-san, JUNG Young-min
Production Design: RYU Seong-hee
Wardrobe: CHO Sang-kyung
Make-Up: SONG Jong-hee
Recording: LEE Seung-chul
Sound: CHOI Tae-young (LIVETONE)
Editing: KIM Sun-min
Music: Byeongwoo LEE
VFX Supervisor: Kevin Rafferty
Visual Effects and Animation by: The Orphanage
Q&A WITH DIRECTOR BONG JOON-HO
Question: Has your perception of filmmaking changed from the time you shot the short INCOHERENCE to your shooting commercial films?
Bong Joon-ho: The principle I stick to both then and now is to make films I want to see. I have a basic impulse to shoot films that I want to see, because nobody else shot then for me when I wanted to see them as a cinephile. Whether in BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE, MEMORIES OF MURDER, or THE HOST, my motivation is always the same. In the case of a commercial film, though, I have realistic constraints such as the interests of the investors, the casting, marketing and so forth. My impulse alone is not enough to make the film. So I need to package it in the manner of a statement, for example, say I interpret the genre of THE HOST in such and such a way, but for the audience, I need to spell out the kind of pleasure my films will give. But the bottom line is the same. I make films I want to see.
Question: You call yourself a cinephile. What kind of films were you drawn to? Tell us about the history of your favorite movies.
Bong Joon-ho: If a cinephile means watching a lot of films, I wouldn’t be qualified as one. I tend to watch the same films I like over and over again. When I was in elementary school, I greatly enjoyed watching THE WAGES OF FEAR by Henri Georges Clouzot, which played on TV here. I also enjoyed THE WILD BUNCH and CROSS OF IRON by Sam Peckinpah, THE GREAT ESCAPE and PAPILLON starring Steve McQueen. After I went to college, I watched films by Asian directors like Hou Hsiao-hsien, Shohei Imamura and Kiyoshi Kurosawa with an attitude of studying films, thinking it would be nice to have such films in Korea too.
Question: In BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE there were criticisms that the film was like a manga. In fact you too described your film in such a way. Where did your comic imagination come from? What are the sources of influences for your films other than the films you’ve watched?
Bong Joon-ho: I read manga a lot. I like people like Urazawa Naoki. I like drawing manga, and I draw my own storyboards for films. I hardly read any novels, but I enjoy taking photographs, too. If an image interests me, I keep it in my pocket, and become obsessive about it. Often I get a hint for my films through such images.
Question: Is THE HOST (the Korean title translates as “The Creature”) closer to BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE or MEMORIES OF MURDER?
Bong Joon-ho: I think it will be even closer to a genre film than the two films I’ve shot. It is a film about a monster, which on its own has a strong character of a genre movie. But the story will also be suited within a specifically Korean context. The schizophrenia will become stronger. It is an open question how the audience will react to this. The structure of the scenes is very dramatic and entertaining, but the audience might respond more to the overall eerie atmosphere.
Question: BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE and MEMORIES OF MURDER are similar in that there are unfamiliar aspects colliding against each other. How about THE HOST?
Bong Joon-ho: If BARKING DOGS was focused on the collision between mundane life and manga-like fantasy, MEMORIES OF MURDER has a collision between a genre and the film’s realism. It was like a clash between an American genre of a thriller and the pandemonium of the Korean countryside in 1980s, in which cultivators were erasing all the suspect’s footsteps on the site of the crime. In THE HOST there is a clash when a monster appears in the middle of Seoul’s Han River, turning the area into a sea of blood. The monster genre, excluding the “Godzilla” series from Japan, is in itself quite American. THE HOST might look as if it follows the conventions and excitement of the previous genre films, but it has scenes that we’ve never seen in western movies before, like corpses lying around the group memorial where families are hugging each other, crying.
Question: In the script, there is a constant mix of extreme situations that are really frightening and comical.
Bong Joon-ho: It turned out that way. Maybe it had been in my instinct. A catastrophe is frightening and tragic, but at the same time, it accompanies some comical conditions. I was very shocked and sad when I heard that Sampoong Department Store collapsed. But it was funny how thieves in town flocked into the store after the accident, stealing golf clubs and luxury goods out of their import section. When an extreme catastrophe like that takes place, tragedy and comedy always come together. It’s inevitable, because people are out of control. Overall, the film is a story about family fighting against a monster. But it’s funny because they are not fighting with some cool laser guns. Of course, it wasn’t aimed at eliciting easy laughs. In Korea, a catastrophe is like that. It’s like a piece of theater of the absurd.
Question: The English title of the film THE HOST gives a different feel to the movie.
Bong Joon-ho: I hope it gives a double meaning. On one hand, it has a biological connotation. On the other hand, it has a sociopolitical reference to the host.
Question: Are there comical elements in THE HOST like your other films?
Bong Joon-ho: I think humor or eliciting string laughs is in my instinct. It comes out naturally. In MEMORIES OF MURDER, for example, I didn’t have to look for right places to fit the humors in the film. It wasn’t calculated at all. I don’t think I would be able to shoot a film without humor, ever. Even if I were to shoot a horror film, I would find humor in it.
Question: In MEMORIES OF MURDER, the police were far from being articulate. The main characters in THE HOST are mostly from the working class. People who fight against the monster in the film are a family that owns a convenient store near the Han River. Do you deliberately choose these low-class people as main characters?
Bong Joon-ho: I am just drawn to these people. [Laughs] Hot shots stink. What drama could we get out of people who lead a smooth life?
Question: Was there any particular reason you chose the Han River as the film’s background?
Bong Joon-ho: It probably reflects my own taste. It’s a space anyone living in Seoul passes by everyday. It’s also a place for the working class, whether it’s a family running a store there or people who spend the night there every summer because they don’t have an air conditioner at home. But as the monster appears in the river, the place suddenly turns into a dramatic, unfamiliar space. Like in BARKING DOGS and MEMORIES OF MURDER, I think my films deal with the clashes between life and fantasy, genre aspects and Korean subjects.
Question: Is there any film you had in mind for THE HOST?
Bong Joon-ho: Only SIGNS by M. Night Shyamalan, but it might also be related to Steven Spielberg’s JAWS in a way. When I first brought up the story of this film, people seems confused about the scale of the monster. Many thought of giant monsters like Godzilla, which in fact it’s the size of Alien. From a bigger perspective, JAWS is also a monster film. The monster in THE HOST is also a biological mutation. At any rate, I don’t think there are any similar texts.
Question: Can we expect a film with a strong comic element?
Bong Joon-ho: There won’t be any feel of comic-science fiction. The nature of the catastrophe is supernatural, but the setting is present on the Han River. The characters are from the working class. Except for the huge catastrophe, everything else is ordinary. M. Night Shyamalan’s SIGNS is an example. The film takes place within the territory of a cornfield in the countryside, but that is also where an alien appears. It makes the incident look very real. That’s what THE HOST feels like.