Scrolling through my Netflix & Stan catalogues deciding what I could watch for my digital Asia project I waded through the very extensive selection of Asian cinema made available on both services, and while I am interested in watching some of the other films on the list two films caught my attention interestingly both were produced in South Korea. The first film I came across was the zombie action film Train to Basan, a film that has generated a lot of buzz on the international film circuit and the latter being the monster film THE HOST. I made the decision to watch The Host upon a recommendation from a friend but I will probably follow up with Train to Basan at some point.
In trying to undertake an ethnographic approach to this film I had to establish how my own personal context influences my experience of the film and I instantly found myself drawing parallels to western monster movies that I have seen. tonally I found the film similar to the Piranha films in the sense that they were quite liberal with the funny death sequences and over the top gore. the film plays more as a Horror comedy in some parts and balances this with genuine moments of dread the scene with Park Gang-du watching as Park Gang-du is snatched away by the creature was genuinely distressing. I found the role of the American military in the film quite interesting, given that it is the reckless actions of one of their pathologist that resulted in the creation of the creature the fact they take control of the situation in a foolhardy attempt to stop the monster I can’t help but think that the film is taking a subtle critique of US military intervention.
The film plays with tropes seen in western monster movies but at times subverted my expectation in really interesting ways, one such moment is when the quarantine officer asks if anybody came in contact with the creature, Park Gang-Du oblivious to the ramifications happily raises his hand. Moments like this made the film really captivating for me everything from the cinematography to the music had a weird over the top off kilter quality to it that I really enjoyed.
I’ll take a moment to talk about the CGI in this film from my understanding it was produced in the united states and it is pretty average, the monster is very obviously not real and yet the film manages to suspend my disbelief. The film really amps up for me when it is discovered that the creature is the ‘host of a virus’ I thought that this was a really inventive way to make the creature legitimately threatening and also added stakes to the film given that Park Gang-Du himself is now at risk. I thought the film really utilized its human characters to progress the story opposed to relying on the spectacle of the monster
I found the role of the American military in the film quite interesting, given that it is the reckless actions of one of their pathologist that resulted in the creation of the creature the fact they take control of the situation in a foolhardy attempt to stop the monster I can’t help but think that the film is taking a subtle critique of US military intervention. I found it really interesting that the film cuts between English and Korean periodically whenever a military character is on screen. I almost found it distracting to hear English spoken when most of the cast is speaking Korean.
The film works for me on a number of levels, the performance put on by the cast makes the film really enjoyable, I went into this film expecting and over the top gore fest but found myself pleasantly surprised at how much the story of the central characters kept me captivated. Inventive use of set design and costuming makes the film come alive and it is easy to see why this film did so well internationally. as this is my first foray into Korean cinema I am very interested to see what else the country has to offer cinematically and will keep you updated on my thoughts on Train to Basan.