Upon seeing the subject title ‘Digital Asia’, I felt instantly intimidated and hesitant. I have rarely ventured beyond the realm of Western media, and for this I blame my upbringing in a “typical” white Australian household. I guess I have developed a sense of indifference towards Asian media, not because of any personal prejudice, but rather a simple lack of exposure – until now.
Our first seminar screening was Bong Joon-ho’s The Host (2006). This was an entirely new media experience for me – the Korean film and the live tweeting. Admittedly, I found it difficult to channel my concentration between reading the subtitles, watching the scenes, and live tweeting. When reviewing my tweets afterwards I realised I contributed nothing of significant value due to having no background knowledge of what The Host was about, as well as having an extremely limited understanding of Korean cultural nuances (oh, and my fingers were too cold to type). If I was more aware of Korean culture, particularly body language and humour, the movie may have been easier to follow and commentate.
Given the screening took place in a tutorial scenario, this didn’t detract from my viewing experience. The room was dimly lit and the audience size made me feel as though I was in a half-filled cinema with slightly less comfortable chairs. I was utterly captivated by the film – it made me laugh, it nearly made me cry and it made me jump in fright… twice!
The Host effectively transcends genres, showcasing comedy, drama, horror and sci-fi in an introspective and melodramatic approach – something I have learned is typical of Korean films. The story incorporates subtle tropes I recognise from Western media, including family bonds, the position of women in society, political critiques, and satire. In my opinion, the most compelling aspect of the movie is the character development, particularly of father and daughter, Gang-du and Hyun-seo. Each character goes on their own separate journey, encountering many challenges along the way, as they try to reunite and defeat the monster.
To me, the film appears to be a critique of U.S. imperialism and military presence on the Korean peninsula. This aspect may be lost on those unfamiliar with modern Korean history and politics. The “outbreak narrative” of The Host condemns Western intervention in Asia, which impedes national progress while simultaneously blaming the inevitable underdevelopment on its victims. The monster in the film is a result of American’s pouring formaldehyde into the sewer system that led to the Han River – this scene is actually based on a true environmental crime that occurred in 2000 at a U.S. military facility in Seoul (read more here). I was glad to see that Bong Joon-ho didn’t employ an American protagonist, but rather made the Korean underdog the star of the show. Given my perspective, as somewhat of a self-proclaimed history buff, I struggle to match my class mates’ sympathy for the monster’s eventual demise because for me it represents the collapse of U.S. imperialism in Asia.
After viewing The Host, it’s safe to say my initial apprehension towards BCM320: Digital Asia has now subsided and been replaced with anticipation for the next 12 weeks – stay tuned!
Chung, S.E. (n.d.), Monster and Empire: Bong Joon-ho’s The Host (2006) and the Question of Anti-Americanism. Available at: https://www2.oakland.edu/oujournal/files/20_monster_and_empire.pdf