When I was young, my favorite books were ones regarding
the mysteries of the world. One such wonder is Nessie, the Loch Ness
monster of Scotland. I was completely captivated by Nessie. I searched
high and low through every magazine and book, collecting articles, pictures
and eyewitness testimonies of Nessie. When I imagine the monster swimming
in the deep waters of the Loch Ness lake, I get uncontrollably excited.
However, the Loch Ness lake was too far away, on the other side of the
world. I was only a small boy living in Seoul, South Korea. Instead,
there was the Han River right before me. I lived in an apartment right
in front of the river (the center stage for The Host). A big
daydreamer, looking at the river beyond my bedroom window, I would drift
off into fantasy. One day when I was in high school, I witnessed a creature
like Nessie coming out of the Han River through my window. Illusion
or not, I personally witnessed a creature. From that day on, I decided
that if I became a director, I would shoot a film about a creature coming
out of the Han River.
In 2000, I did become a film director. In the year I made my debut with
Barking Dogs Never Bite, the McFarland case broke out. On a U.S.
military base, McFarland poured 480 bottles of formaldehyde down the
drain into the Han River. It was a case that shook the nation. When
I saw the article, my Han River creature popped back into my head. The
McFarland case served as a starting point.
In 2002, I was in the middle of doing Memories of Murder but
the story of the creature grew inside my head. In my spare moments,
I went to the Han River with a camera and took pictures. I would composite
the Nessie pictures into them. Those crude pictures were the first images
of The Host. I fearlessly showed them to my producer. In other
words, it was a bold presentation. I made a few short comments. Looking
at the weird pictures, my producer thought deeply for 30 seconds. Finally,
he spoke: “Let’s do it!” It was a happy moment for
me but at the same time, the beginning of a long, winding, tempestuous
road. When I announced I was making a monster film, my friends said:
“Don’t do it!” Close industry confidants were even
more severe. “Are you crazy?” “Don’t throw away
your youth and talent.” “Why make a cheap, juvenile, tacky,
made-for-kids film like that?” Whenever someone said something,
it just made me want to make this film even more. Going against the
prejudice of others was thrilling to me. Looking back, no one said anything
nice when I was preparing Barking Dogs Never Bite or Memories
of Murder either. Especially this time around, with the prejudice
against the monster genre, the jeering and damning was enormous. But
no matter, the producer said “yes” in 30 seconds. Thankfully.
He is a great man.
Fast forward to 2005. I was standing in front of the Han River, surrounded
by about 100 crew members. Among them, my loving actors and crew who
had worked with me before. For the creature scenes, visual effects specialists
had flown in from Australia and America. Everyone worked hard and fortunately,
no one cursed the film either. But like any film, the shoot, day by
day, was excruciatingly difficult. On location, I looked up and saw
an apartment building. It was where I had once lived. Looking at that
window where I had stood as a high school student, I remembered the
daydreams that were the reason I was suffering so terribly right now…I
cursed myself something awful.
The year, 2006. The lights come on in the theater and the audience breaks
out into applause. I wonder if they are clapping because they liked
the film or if they are just being polite. There is no way of knowing.
Luckily, the next day, a stream of positive reviews flowed out of the
dailies at the Cannes Film Festival. I was happy. With that, The
Host opened in theaters around the world and was invited to many
festivals. The second film festival that I went to after Cannes was
the Edinburgh Film Festival, in Scotland. From the hotel, I caught a
bus and two hours later, I was in Loch Ness. There was no Nessie to
greet my eyes but the lake was very beautiful.