The biggest blockbuster ever in Korea cinema and from 2006 has finally arrived in the states. How will the American audience perceive this film? I am not too sure, but I am quite worried. Marketed as “ONE OF THE GREATEST MONSTER MOVIES EVER MADE!” may be quite a statement and possibly in a general sense pretty close. But what makes a “monster movie” a “monster movie” in another country may be quite different. But who cares what the audience thinks, this refreshing and humorous and entertaining film was one of my favorites of 2006!
Let’s begin with the typical storyline for GWOEMUL. A biochemist dumps a slew of biochemicals into the Han River. The chemicals interact with the river life and eventually spawns “the monster.” The monster comes out of the river and wrecks havoc. The monster takes Hyun-seo the daughter of Gang-du hostage into the canals and then the story unravels. The slow witted father alongside his dysfunctional family (sister Nam-joo, brother Nam-il, father Hee-bong) get into a roller coaster of a ride in trying to save Hyun-seo themselves.
I won’t get any further into plot of the film, but it does like every other typical monster movie doesn’t it?
But what makes Gweomul remarkably different from every other “monster movie” that has come out in years is that the story rather than taking typical characters and predictable characters into a predictable plot instead took a string of quirky off-beat characters into a predictable plot. What the film was also able to do was not take itself seriously. Director Boon Joon-ho who received critical acclaim for his Salunui Chueok (Memories Of Murder) on top of directing a little favorite of mine Namgeuk-ilgi (Antarctic Journal) and the low profile black comedy Flandersui Gae (Barking Dogs Never Bite), was able to get this dysfunctional family to become the focus point the film rather than its monster. The tragedy and hardships that the family goes through and their interaction with the city and city folk around them is what made this film interesting and entertaining.
Instead of the King Kongs swinging through the skyscrapers, the T-Rex munching down on people, aliens hiding in the air vents, insane psychopaths slashing innocent bystanders, Boon Joon-ho captivates us with a middle class family who just happens to have been strapped into an unfortunate event. Actors playing this family, the adorable and talented Bae Du-na, the sharp Song Kang-ho along with Byeon Hie-bong, Park Hae-il and Ko Ah-sung were able to bring the characters to life and their dilemma into having us go along for the ride. The uniqueness in each character doesn’t bore with the trite and repetitive nature that have we have seen in so many previous films.
Now tie up the creative story with top notch and NOT OVER DONE special effects with great cinematography from Kim Hyung-ku and a soundtrack by Lee Byung-woo that will have feeling like you’re running around in a circus and you’ll have yourself a good time. The direction, cinematography, score and acting was able to gel together different genres and emotions together into a smorgasbord of fun. Film critics have labeled this film a monster movie, a thriller, a comedy, a horror, a sci-fi. But I would like to label this “a good time.”
If you are expecting a film with overly done CGI, with humongous monsters, with $100 million budget, with over dramatic acting and with gore splishing and splashing everywhere you can skip out on this one. You’ll be missing out on what this film really has to offer.
Oh, and no…this is nothing like JAWS!
Original Korean movie posters:
Original Korean trailer:
American (English) trailers: