Starring : Jang Hyuk, Soo Ae, Park Min-ha, Cha In-pyo, Ma Dong-seok, Park Hyo-ju
Director : Kim Sung-soo
Release Date : 12 Sep 2013
South Korean disaster flick, The Flu, invades cinemas but it is not exactly infectious.
I still recall South Korean disaster flicks like the tsunami-themed Haeundae (2009) and the fire-fighting The Tower (2012) — both were gripping and populated with characters that I could empathise with. The hero for both these disaster flicks was brilliantly played by the rugged Sol Kyung-gu, who made me believe in the imminent danger, the “right” decision a hero had to make and finally, the ultimate sacrifice.
The Flu (Gamgi in Korean) also plays along these lines – coughing and wheezing as it piles on the blood and gore in a viral outbreak that begins with a mutated strain of avian flu virus that kills within 36 hours of infection.
Tragedy begins when the lone survivor of a container full of illegal immigrants found dead from the said flu bug starts running around town in his bid to escape from human traffickers. And like in most South Korean flicks, there’s romance amidst tragedy; here the romance is provided by Emergency Rescue specialist Ji-goo (Jang Hyuk) who saves virologist In-hye (Soo Ae) from a car wreck and promptly falls for her despite her indifference to his charms.
Set in Bundang, which is an affluent suburb less than 20km from the country’s capital, The Flu tells the story of a medical disaster — the bureaucratic kind that gathers politicians, medical experts, defence personnel all in one room and makes them go head-to-head about human rights and security risks and finally come up with a decision for the greater good, even if that means sacrificing lives.
Initially, I wondered why they got a heavyweight like Cha In-pyo to play the South Korean president, which I expected to be a small role. But when I saw the fire blazing in his bloodshot eyes that were brimming with tears, I realised he was simply perfect for the role of a man torn between saving the people or the country. It felt good to watch the charismatic president who refuses to allow himself to be pushed around by selfish politicians or sinister Western authorities.
The colossal body count in hastily erected quarantine camps and the scenes of mass panic out in the streets, though meant to be an alarming indication of the fatal contagion, somehow just seemed far-fetched in its excess.
Also, the fledgling romance between the selfless rescue worker Ji-goo and the bossy virologist In-hye is quite unbelievable. While the charming firefighter is quite the knight in shining armour, it is difficult to comprehend how he can be so enamoured with a woman as cold as the selfish doctor, unless it is just to play surrogate father to her cute-as-a-button daughter, Mi-reu (Park Min-ha).
Hence, despite having multiple-award-winning leads like Jang and Soo, The Flu increasingly relied on the five-year-old Park who ably delivered in every scene designed to tug at viewers’ heartstrings.
Having said that, The Flu still manages to impress with its steady pace, slick lensing and tight editing, making it gritty and visceral, well worth its hype as South Korean filmmaker Kim Sung-soo’s comeback blockbuster after a 10-year hiatus.