I love the fact that The New York Times is loving The Host. I'm still wigging out that my favorite director from back in the day is now the hottest thing since sliced tooboo around the world.
By turns a carnival of horrors and a family melodrama (variations on the same theme), “The Host” is also a rethink of those 1950s cine-quickies in which mondo ants, locusts, wasps, crabs and snails and one seriously ticked off amphibious reptile go on the rampage, visiting punishment on a hapless, guilty humanity. Like Godzilla (Gojira in the original Japanese), some of these mutants were born under a mushroom cloud; others were hatched in the B-movie hothouse of box-office opportunism.
I'm sure Bae Du-na is wigging off of being in The New York Times over any of the other actors, outside of the traditional publicity shots. Perhaps she's so good at looking apprehensive? Confused? But she was definitely cool with the bow and arrow. Remember, she's the only one who faces off, warrior-style, against the monster. 3 times. Badass.
It's also interesting to see The Host being so heavily compared to Little Miss Sunshine (both in the NYT and Salon), in terms of a quirky family that transverses and transgresses American society. One of the strengths of The Host, when I first saw it alone, without finished sound effects, in my home theater in the middle of the night as prep for meeting the director the next day, was its universal appeal, but chock full of local flavor.
To me, this was the answer of how to balance the universal appeal required to appeal to just about anyone – especially international audiences – while preserving the grit, flavor, and funk of the local culture that makes foreign films, well, foreign.
“The Host” may be born out of sociopolitical tensions, scares about SARS and the avian flu, or Mr. Bong’s imagination, but it’s also a snapshot of a modern South Korea bordering on social anarchy, one in which a fatalistically obedient old-timer and his three preternaturally immature adult children face down a rampaging beast along with clueless doctors, Keystone Kops, faithless friends and even hordes of paparazzi.
This is what the rush to capitalize on the "Korean Wave" is missing, as directors like Kang Je-gyu (Shiri, Taegugki) try to make Korean films universal by making them in the Hollywood style and forgetting Korean flavor in the process.
I see it this way: if you want to market Korean food, you prepare authentic Korean food made with the best Korean ingredients possible. You don't take American ingredients and try to fake the funk. Kimchichigae is good because it's kimchichigae; you might reduce the spice a bit, or add some more meat for a different palate, but the basic ingredients are the same. But you don't replace kimchi with boiled cabbage and throw in some red pepper powder to cover it. That's what Shiri felt like to me.
To me, the future of any "Korean Wave" that will succeed lies in the Bong Joon Ho recipe, who is that antithesis of the Kang Je-Gyu, which is to milk and bilk the Korean audience and the fad of the "Wave" for as much as he can get away with. It may seem harsh to say, but such films as the ones he makes are an insult to the true power of Korean cinema.
And with films like The Host lie the future, in terms of good cultural content, not a self-congratulatory, self-conscious, and smug sense of being an unstoppable "wave."