- Observations on film art - http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog -

Korean monsters, Miami hard guys, and looping Tokyo

More from Vancouver from DB:

Bong Joon-ho, one of the most talented Korean directors working now, has in a few years proven himself adept in many genres. His first feature was the charming comedy Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), and he followed that with one of the best recent cop movies I know, Memories of Murder (2003). Now The Host has broken Korean box-office records and won tremendous praise at Cannes last spring.

Naturally, there’s been a buildup of interest for the three screenings of The Host scheduled during the festival. The opening one is sold out, and the others are nearly full too. This morning there was a Forum discussion with Bong, moderated by Tony Rayns, and it proved to be a very interesting conversation.

Bong had wanted to make a monster movie ever since his childhood, when he looked out his window at the Han river and imagined a creature like the Loch Ness monster rising out of it. Eventually he was able to summon up the money to do so. The budget for The Host ran to about $11 million US, nearly half of which was used on special effects. (Bong points out that the ordinary Korean film is budgeted at about what he spent on fx.) He contracted the CGI out to several firms, including Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital and The Orphanage, a San Francisco company.

To save money Bong cut several monster shots, instead simply suggesting the creature’s presence through other means. He was inspired by Spielberg’s handling of Bruce the shark in Jaws: faced with Bruce’s constant mechanical failures, Spielberg used point-of-view shots and Williams’ score to signal when the shark was nearby.

Will there be a Host 2? Bong says that if there is, he wouldn’t be directing it. He envisions the possibility of something like the Alien series, where different directors turn each installment in different directions.

Tony Rayns set up the context for the discussion with his usual aplomb, and the audience coaxed Bong into wider comments. One listener asked what makes Korean audiences so eager to support their local movies. Tony pointed out that Korea has the most cosmopolitan and film-loving population in Asia, and Bong talked of the expansion of the market, with The Host going out on more than 600 screens. Also, Tony added, Korean movies tend to be very good.

I can’t refrain from a personal note. Bong greeted me warmly, and he reminded me that we met in Hong Kong in 1995, when his breakout short, Incoherence, screened at that festival. At that time he told me that he had read the (pirate) Korean translation of Film Art: An Introduction. I was happy that our book might have contributed a little toward his film career, and he cheerfully autographed my Vancouver catalogue with a little tribute to the textbook. Sometimes I forget that film researchers can affect filmmakers.

I was pleasantly reminded again at tonight’s reception. There I met Reg Harkema, an Ontario director, who became obsessed with Film Art‘s discussion of La Chinoise and nondiegetic inserts….so much so that Monkey Warfare, his film in this festival, is full of them! (Have to catch that.) And Ho Yuhang, director of the Malaysian movie Rain Dogs, knew Film Art but was more interested in my Ozu book. His autograph in my catalogue reads, “My friend, that f*cker, bought the only Ozu book left in the store. Damn!” Yuhang is also a big fan of film noir and he’s now scripting a crime movie.

Apart from hobnobbing with directors, I saw the disturbing docu Rampage, about black family life in one of Miami’s most poverty-plagued neighborhoods. All the young men, including one serving in Iraq, want to be rappers, and the most talented of all is only 14. But can he and his brothers survive gang warfare? I thought that the editing and sound were a little too aggressive, even somewhat sensationalistic, but as the film goes along it raises very tough issues concerning filmmakers’ ethical responsibilities. The question of whether the presence of a film crew changes the situation it’s filming is brought to the surface with really unsettling results.

I ended the day with pure fun. Tokyo Loop is a string of animated shorts, in varying styles, all aiming to comment on life in Japan’s metropolis. I’ve long thought that animated filmmakers don’t get enough credit, because we forget that they have to acquire an enormous understanding of how creatures and objects move. I was reminded of this again in seeing Tokyo Strut, a record of human and animal movement conveyed solely by dots of light, and the very funny Dog & Bone. Other filmmakers record movement, but animators have to know how to create it.

Finally, a greeting to Marlene Yuen and Ted Tozer, who despite my best efforts to hide my operating tactics, spotted me counting shots in screenings at Vancouver last year. Ted, if this interests you, check the CineMetrics website [1] on the first page of this site.