With his spectacular monster movie, “The Host“, Bong Joon-ho takes some advice from the Speilberg suspense-film playbook — simplify the monster, humanize the people. Marked by a patient and well-crafted beginning, a sunny day at the river’s edge becomes a bloody feast for a bumbling creature. When it takes a little girl into its lair for a future snack, the dsyfunctional family it left behind tries to pull it together to save her. As the hottly anticipated followup to Joon-ho’s “Memories of Murder,” “The Host” quickly became the highest grossing South Korean film of all time. The director answered indieWIRE’s questions following the film’s U.S. release last Friday by Magnolia Pictures.
What got you into filmmaking?
I didn’t have a certain incident that made me suddenly decide that I want to be a director. I just knew by the time I went to the junior high school that I wanted to be a director. I used to watch many films as a kid, and if you look at my diaries or notebooks I kept when I was younger, you would find I collected clippings of the reviews and things like that. Once I saw “Wages of Fear,” and I was so mesmerized by the suspense it gave me that I had to see it till the end even though I had to go to the bathroom. There, I realized the power of the film.
Where did the idea for “The Host” come from?
I used to live nearby the Han River when I was younger, and I liked to daydream as I watched the River. I was also a great fan of monsters like Nessie of Loch Ness and so on. When I was looking at the Han River one day, I thought how it would be if a monster like Nessie came out of the Han River, and into the ordinary and everyday space of Seoul citizens. That was the start of the film. And when the toxic chemical dumping case happened in 2000, it was just perfect for my monster’s birth.
What were your goals for the project? What are your influences?
It was my first visual effects film, so I wanted to make a great sci-fi film. And secondly, I wanted to create very realistic “loser” family characters fighting against the monster. In a nutshell, my goal was to make a unique and new genre film. As to the influence — if you think a shark is a monster, you can say Steven Spielberg‘s “Jaws” was a sort of influence, especially, the first half of the film where the whole community panicked when the shark appears. But I have to say M. Night Shamalan‘s “Signs” was a bigger influence. Even though it deals with the alien invasion rather than creatures, I liked the fact that the film focused on the Mel Gibson‘s family not on the aliens.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either
developing “The Host”?
There’s no monster or creature film tradition in South Korea, so there are prejudices against genre films. [People think] they are childish and juvenile. So my friends and even industry people told me not to do it.
How did the financing and casting for the film come together?
In Korea, there are two ways to secure the financing. One, a government organization supports art house films, and two, there are private companies to back up the commercial films. I also get the financing from a Japanese company. Even though the film is not popular genre in Korea, I was able to get the financing for the film due to the success of my previous “Memories of Murder” and the casting of the popular actors. All of the main actors and some of the supporting actors were the ones I’ve worked before and we enjoyed working together. So I could fix the line-up of the actors before I completed the script, and then I could write the “tailored” story for the actors.
What are some of your all-time favorite films, and why?
I like the films of Japanese directors such as Imamura Shohei, Kurosawa Kiyoshi. I also like the early ’70s U.S. films such as Steven Spielberg‘s “Sugarland Express“, “Duel” , “Jaws” and Sam Peckinpah‘s films, or Henri-Georges Clouzot. But my mentor, my all time favorite director, is the late Korean director KIM Ki-young. He made films in ’60s and ’70s and they are so grotesque and bizarre but great. There will be a retrospective of KIM Ki-young, commemorating the 10th anniversary of his death in New York’s Lincoln Center, so I highly recommend you watch his films there.
What are your interests outside of film?
When I am not shooting films, I watch films. I enjoy comic books and photographs of the professional photographers.
Do you have any advice for emerging filmmakers?
The more unique your imagination is, the more people laugh at you. [Ignore] people’s ridicule and grow up to be a great director. I, too, had hard times. People laughed when I first told them I am making monster films, but I did.