By Eifion Jones.
In an age where epidemics come and go like fashion trends, it’s hardly a surprise that the worlds film industries have turned their attention to virus/disease epidemics as a basis for modern disaster movies. Akin to the zombie films that have been present on the silver screen for almost 50 years, they concern themselves not only with the outbreak itself, but on how society, and those who govern society, deals with the situation. The Flu (2013,) a South Korean disaster movie, is no exception to this rule, and while it may be ridden with clichés and stereotypes, it does present us enough nail biting action and high tension drama to (sort of) compensate.
The film centres around a South Korean city called Bundang, whose streets soon become filled with violently ill citizens, as a result of a shipping container housing illegal immigrants infected with the H5N1 strain of Avian Flu. When one of the immigrants (presumably Thai/Indonesian, the film doesn’t specify) escapes, the Flu begins to spread like wildfire, eventually leading to the lockdown of Bundang. Meanwhile Jigu, who earlier on in the film had rescued In-Hae (a doctor involved with the treatment of H5N1 patients,) is attempting to reunite In-Hae with her daughter, Miree. However, In-Hae is unaware that Miree has become infected because of her contact with the aforementioned escapee. As tensions heighten both in the newly erected Flu camp and also behind the scenes in the Government section, the prime interest for both parties is a development of an anti-body, as a task made ever difficult by virulent bodies, hostile protestors and supposedly heartless politicians.
The initial impression that I felt upon viewing the closing credits to this film, was just how much like a B-Movie it felt. That is not to say the film was bad, to say such a thing would do the film massive injustice. It just felt very much like a B-Movie. The characters seemed to be absolute stereotypes, offering no sense of ambiguity or change, save for the last scene when In-Hae finally stops giving Jigu a hard time and actually says thank you (too little, too late if you ask me.) Jigu is your archetypal good guy; he can’t do any wrong and goes out of his way to ensure the safety of others. Miree is your typical cute but annoying child character; constantly getting lost and getting herself into life-threatening predicaments. I could carry on, but I won’t in fear of writing until the cows come home. Rest assured however, that while perfectly entertaining to watch, the characters offer very little to the audience other than seemingly one dimensional personality’s
Given that this is a South Korean film with an apparently reasonable budget, the production is very good as is the sound editing. What the film might lack in believable characters, it certainly makes up for in believable set pieces. Whether it’s the dark corridors of the Flu camp, or the expansive scenes of panic on the streets of Bundang, the film never seems to lose authenticity, which is a redeeming feature that many films in the same genre cannot claim themselves. Where the film does lose authenticity, I will argue, is in its juxtaposition between scenes of mass panic and tension and its scenes of overindulgent sentimentality. I am not heartless, and as such enjoy a few scenes of moderated sentimentality, particularly when it is done well and tastefully. However some of the scenes in this film felt too contrast to others, appearing to have more in common with dreary soap operas rather than disaster movies. The one exception to this that is worth noting is the last scene where In-Hae, Jigu and Miree are together again, which provides not only a few tear jerking moments, but also a laugh or two as well.
All in all then, The Flu is a film which essentially does everything it claims to offer. It delivers a poignant and thought provoking image of a city decimated by a deadly epidemic, a Government at odds with how to deal with the situation and a group of people desperate to ensure each other’s safety. To be honest, the criticisms I have listed are ones that are usual suspects in this particular area of film, and as such should be taken with a pinch of salt. If what you are looking for is an entertaining and occasionally emotional film, with plenty of drama and action to keep your attention, then The Flu is definitely worth a watch. Its downfalls are only truly noticed if you are expecting rather more memorable performances/characters or a slightly more explorative engagement with the topic of the film itself.
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