This is an expanded response to a post from a blog I like and read regularly – GI Korea: A Look at Korea and the World from Someone Who Helps Defend It.
I've gotta disagree with the post a bit here. I've seen the film, and I don't think it's particularly anti-American.
"...the origin of the 'monster' or the cause of turning people into 'zombies' or whatever is embedded deep in the 'grammar' of the monster/creature film."
Another film critic – and you'll hear him in my podcast in a couple of days – made an enlightening comment in response to this very question.
He pointed out that the origin of the "monster" or the cause of turning people into "zombies" or whatever is embedded deep in the "grammar" of this kind of monster/creature film. If you look at any zombie or plague or monster movie, the origin of the problem is always found deep within the laboratories of a secret government facility or nefarious research installation.
And this movie's no different. And the most nefarious and/or secretive place imaginable in a Korean context – and I think this is outside of the very obvious anti-American streak that is otherwise very obvious in Korean popular culture and the news – is the "secret research facility" that, according to the logic of a Korean horror film, would definitely lie deep in the imaginary (we hope!) recesses of Yongsan.
You might also note that Godzilla found his origins as the leftovers of American nuclear testing in the Pacific. Japan at the time was certainly not overtly "anti-American" as Korea is now often described, but the origins of the beast that is Godzilla that destroys Japan as the physical embodiment of the memory of a real nuclear horror makes perfect sense in 1950's Japan.
"...the film is far from an anti-American rant, and is in fact, far harder on Korean society than anything outside."
I'm one of the first people to say that I think superficial and politically-motivated expressions of anti-Americanism and even hatred irritate the hell out of me. I've blogged about it as well. However, I think you'll see not only from the overall tone of the film, but from a specific plot point that I won't mention here (no spoilers), that the film is far from an anti-American rant, and is in fact, far harder on Korean society than anything outside.
And the film is so shot through with elements of comedy and ridiculousness that even the jabs in the film are only half-serious. It's really a story about a family who has to deal with their problem – as imposed on them and made more complex by forces outside of their control – as a family. They gotta take matters into their own hands.
Trust me – if you take the scene along with the others, it's not an anti-American rant at all. It just makes you bristle a bit because it's the first scene, and the film hasn't had the chance yet to establish its tone and hit its rhythm yet.
If you actually look deeply at Bong Joon Ho's films, he is merciless in roving his critical eye over all sorts of aspects of Korean society. For those of you who'd like to get a sense of how he does this, Memories of a Murder is a great start, but go back one more to Flander's Dog. It's hilarious yet deeply, deeply poignant.
"Go see the film – Americans might bristle uncomfortably for a few minutes, but once you see what the film is doing, you'll forget all about it..."
This film is not much different, and completely in keeping with the style of filmmaking from his previous two movies. In the interest of full disclosure, Bong has been my favorite director in Korea ever since the moment I laid eyes on Flander's Dog back in 2002, but I this certainly has not blinded me to be easy on him about this particular point.
Go see the film – Americans might bristle uncomfortably for a few minutes, but once you see what the film is doing, you'll forget all about it and fall right into the place where this very smart director wants you.
And you might accuse me of being on this director's jock too much, but I feel justified in my glowing praise because I've been a fan ever since he was a first-time director of a movie about some dogs in an apartment building that most Koreans haven't seen. Now that he's hit the bigtime and has become an even stronger filmmaker, I feel like I gotta make the extra effort to represent.
For those of us who know Korea and are at times critical of it, Bong Joon Ho's our friend, not foe. His films are equal parts smart, biting, and funny. And no one gets ignored, even the US – I mean our country's military and policies are certainly not above reproach, right? – which I think, considering how hard Bong hits the Korean authorities as well, pretty fair.