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The talk of the 2006 Cannes International Film Festival, the newest thriller from director/co-writer Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder) utilizes state-of-the-art special effects to tell a tale that's equal parts creature-feature thrill ride, comedy and poignant human drama. The idyllic landscape of the Han River suddenly turns to bedlam as a terrifying creature climbs out of the water and grabs Hyun-seo (Ko A-sung) from her father Gang-du (Song Kang-ho). The government announces that the creature is the host of an unidentified virus. Despite fearing the worst, Gang-du makes plans to infiltrate the forbidden zone to rescue his daughter from the clutches of the beast.

 The Host

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.