Posted : 2013-08-11 17:03
Updated : 2013-08-11 17:03

'The Flu' to chill the summer

By Yun Suh-young

Bundang residents run toward the line drawn in the middle of Bundang-Suseo Highway, to which the authorities have forbidden access, in order to prevent them from spreading the virus to the rest of the country

There is nothing in life as mundane and menacing as flu. This is the haunting message of "The Flu," a movie about a lethal and highly contagious virus that wreaks havoc on the peninsula. It's a film made up of many good elements that would have been even better if the overall production were a little less predictable.

The lethal strain in this new Kim Sung-soo movie, which opens Wednesday, appears to be a cross between human transmissible bird flu and the Black Death, but with added strength.

In the movie, the virus spreads between humans with relentless efficiency, capable of killing 2,000 people in an hour. After catching this virus, a person doesn't live for more than 36 hours.

Medical and military personnel fumigate the highway as part of disease control measures

The recent discovery of the first likely case of direct person-to-person transmission of the bird flu virus in China adds an element of eeriness to the movie.

Kim, whose career is defined by high-budget action flicks portraying everything from teenage gangsters to fantasy warriors and wizards, is a director who depends more on the audacity of his ideas than his ability to dramatize them effectively. If anyone was going to make a movie about a pandemic that could make a zombie apocalypse look cute, it was inevitably Kim.

After watching the film, it seems clear that Kim has produced a better-executed disaster film than previous blockbusters such as "Haenudae" (2009), about a freak tsunami devastating Busan and "Tower" (2012), a flick about a group of heroic firefighters saving people from a burning skyscraper.

Both Haenudae and Tower were loud but instantly forgettable productions. It remains to be seen whether The Flu will linger longer in the collective memory. Kim does try harder than the directors of the previous two films, Yoon Je-kyoon and Kim Ji-hoon respectively, by blending the visual onslaught with social commentary to produce a weightier outcome.

The movie begins with a shady middleman transporting illegal foreign workers from Hong Kong to Bundang, a posh suburb south of Seoul. A container is opened and the foreigners are found dead, except for one man who managed to escape.
Those infected and who are carriers of the virus are isolated inside a camp created in the middle of the highway. / Courtesy of I-Film Corporation

A virus carried by one of the passengers seems to have spread to the others inside the container and killed them. The escapee, of course, runs around spreading the virus to everyone he meets.

Mongsai, the escapee, somehow doesn't die, but those around him do so rapidly, spitting out bursts of blood to great cinematic effect. Weird red spots begin to appear on the skin of those infected, which then begin to eat away at their flesh. Yes, Kim decided to give us a profusion of deadly symptoms.

The plot also requires the government to not take the epidemic seriously at first in order to allow the situation to become apocalyptic, then belatedly declare a state of emergency and shut down the entire city.

Kim uses the ensuing chaos to show humanity, at least his idea of it, in a positive light. Among the lawlessness and Darwinism in evidence on the jammed roads and congested supermarkets, there are always altruistic heroes who become beacons for others.

Kim In-hae (Soo Ae) plays a medical specialist who scrambles to find a vaccine for the virus. When her only daughter Mi-reu (Park Min-ha) is infected, she is helped by rescue worker Ji-goo (Jang Hyuk), who saves her from a car accident, enabling them to join together to find a cure and keep the girl alive.

Government officials struggle to make decisions, while others show they are willing to make cruel decisions in order to stem the problem. Of course the president, played by Cha In-pyo, is portrayed as a selfless leader determined to save as many people as possible.

Kim manages to make the drama just believable enough, even making the audience end up caring about the characters. The strength of this movie lies in its stunningly realistic scenes and fast pace.

"I wanted to depict the altruism and humanity of the people despite the extreme fear and the destruction of human qualities," said director Kim.

"I also wanted the situation to seem real. Not fantasy, but realism. I wanted people to feel unfamiliar with places where they usually feel familiar, such as supermarkets or parking lots. The fear of how these places turn into death spots is what makes the story real."

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