A monster emerges from Seoul's Han River and begins attacking people. One victim's loving family does what it can to rescue her from its clutches.A monster emerges from Seoul's Han River and begins attacking people. One victim's loving family does what it can to rescue her from its clutches.A monster emerges from Seoul's Han River and begins attacking people. One victim's loving family does what it can to rescue her from its clutches.
For the sake of this review, let's approach it as more than an action/comedy/horror flick, and let's assume it's a deeper allegory. There's definitely a lot of symbolism, lots of cultural references and outright satire for you to munch on. I think that's what makes this seemingly-ordinary monster flick into a powerful film.
Right in the first scene, the director sets the tone with a caricature of Western (U.S.) muddling. Like the excellent Korean film "Welcome to Dongmakgol" released a year earlier, this film is not exactly complimentary toward America, so if that irritates you, you might want to skip this. But when you consider all the 80s Hollywood flicks that painted Russia as a villain, I guess it's fair enough that the USA should take its lumps.
(I did want to add that the director takes a diplomatic approach, mocking the American "establishment" while indirectly praising the American individual. He does this by including an American tourist who's really cool. So in other words, his criticisms are not one-sided.)
The plot is two-dimensional but the symbolic implications are profound. The story is about a monster that terrorizes the banks of the Han River and grabs a young girl, prompting her bumbling family to lead a rescue effort, with no help from the Korean authorities. Some say that the monster represents Western imperialism. It could represent a figurative "attack" on Korean culture, autonomy and sovereignty. Or it could even be taken literally to represent environmental terrors caused by American apathy.
Don't worry, the USA isn't the only target here. There are some pretty good jabs at the Korean authorities too, insinuating (in a way that's both entertaining and irritating) that the Korean government is apathetic & hopeless. "So much for Korea's new democracy," says one character at one point in the film. Some critics point out interesting parallels & allusions to the 1980 Gwangju Uprising (where the Korean Government botched the whole situation, killing & wounding hundreds at a student protest). Everyone is fair game in a dark satire like this. In that respect it reminded me of the excellent Veerhoven scifi satires "Starship Troopers" and "Robocop".
Like all good satires, there's a nice amount of comedy to remind us not to take everything at face value. The bumbling family provides some great laughs in the first half, and certain scenes in the hospital are reminiscent of the sarcastic masterpiece "Brazil" with its merciless mockery of all institutional powers. The scene where they're looking for a virus in a guy's head is both riotously hilarious and profoundly disturbing.
I did want to mention one thing in case you're wondering. No, the audience isn't supposed to feel sympathy for the monster, not like in "King Kong". I was actually surprised at that (in a good way), because the director didn't stray from his message with any gratuitous sentimentality. Normally I'm not a fan of killer animal flicks (Jaws, etc) because I usually find myself siding with the animals more readily than the humans. But this film managed to avoid all sympathies, since the monster itself is a product of human idiocy (which is explained in the first scene).
Well I've just thrown a bunch of ideas at you, and I don't claim any of them to be absolute. But the point is that this seemingly-ordinary horror flick is so much more. It's entirely up to you how you want to see it. Like I said up front, you can just see it as a straightforward monster flick, but I think if you read deeper into the parallels with current Korean society, you'll get a whole lot more out of this.
- Nov 26, 2012