leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
If you were to cross the dysfunctional family comedy LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006) with 1970s eco-horror film SPAWN OF THE SLITHIS, the result might be something very like Korean filmmaker Joon-ho Bong's slippery, character-driven monster movie.
It begins in Yonsan, Seoul, as a condescending American army bigwig (Scott Wilson) orders the disposal of hundreds of jars of toxic chemicals — directly into the Han River. Six years later, the result emerges from the dark waters to an appetizing cross-section of Seoul residents enjoying a lovely day by the riverbank, where the Park family operates a small snack stand. Perpetually dazed Gang-du Park (Kang-ho Song), a chubby sad-sack with bizarre streaks of peroxide-blond highlights in his unkempt hair, is raising smart-mouthed, 13-year-old Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko) while working for his elderly father, Heui-bong (Heui-bong Byeon). Gang-du's brother, seething former college revolutionary Nam-il (Hae-il Park), is unemployed, while their sister, Nam-joo (Du-na Bae), is a near-champion archer regularly struck with 11th-hour hesitation. As Grandpa and Hyeon-seo watch Nam-Joo on TV, Gang-du sees the rampage: a nightmarish tadpole-insect-fish-lizard herds the picnickers, students and strolling families into a terrestrial bait ball. Before vanishing into the murky river, the creature grabs Hyeon-seo and hauls her beneath the water, presumably to drown.
The Parks then gather in a makeshift facility for families of the bereaved, where they make a pitiful spectacle of themselves, brawling — chaos notwithstanding, how could Gang-du have grabbed the hand of the wrong little girl and lost Hyeon-seo — and grieving so intemperately that onlookers don't know whether to laugh or wince. Then they're unceremoniously herded into quarantine: It appears that the monster is host to a deadly virus, one the American military is especially anxious to contain. Close hospital quarters don't do much for the Park family dynamic. What does pull them together, however, is a cell-phone call from Hyeon-seo: She's not dead after all, but she's in a sewer somewhere hiding amid an ever-growing pile of the dead, the dying and the digested down to the bone. The quest to rescue her while avoiding corrupt government quarantine officials, the virus-happy Americans who want to blanket the waterfront with an insultingly named poison ("Agent Yellow") and the creature itself serves to draw the family together, but Hollywood uplift fails to ensue. Boon's film is both funny and heartbreaking, a supremely confident mix of political satire, free-floating paranoia, fractured family dynamics and the kind of comedy that regularly reconfigures itself into tragedy. The monster is a kick, while the film's last shot — the family snack truck parked on a field of snow, fat flakes falling as the survivors huddle inside with dinner — is magically melancholic.