It is the year 2000.
The chief of the medical laboratory in the American military base in the South Korean capital Seoul, decides to throw 200 bottles of formaldehyde in the sewers which lead into river Han.
Six years later and while thousands of fish have been contaminated, there have been sightings of new oddly looking amphibians.
Next to the banks of the river Han lies the family-ran canteen of the Parks.
There we find Gang-du an immature simpleminded forty year old guy who has been abandoned by his wife, leaving him alone to take care of their daughter Hyun-seo and Gang-du’ s elder father Hee-bong.
With them reside Gang-du’s brother Nam-il, a jobless university graduate and former activist, and their younger sister Nam-joo, (portrayed by Doona Bae, Sense8’s Sun Bak) an archery champion.
One morning from the depths of the river a monstrous creature appears, which sows fear panic and death. Right before it disappears it grabs Gang-du’s daughter.
The Government, with the involvement of the Americans, misinforms the public, quarantines those who have come in contact with the monster, forbids circulation and disseminates rumors of infection by a transmitted virus.
The shocked Park family mourns the loss of Hyun-seo, but not for long.
Soon they receive a phone call from the girl letting them know she is still alive, trapped in the beast’s lair!
With an estimated budget of $10 million, the major part of which was spent in designing and creating the digital monster, the film does not fail to impress with the seemingly simple and very realistic narration of a ... family drama.
At the core of the narrative we find a family of losers. Its members are tormented by traumas and personal deadlocks. We watch them falling apart, experiencing grief and despair over the loss of their most innocent and beloved family member.
Then we watch them, coming together, rising above the expectations, doing ‘unusual’ heroic things in the hope of her rescue.
Director Joon-ho Bong or Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer 2013, Okja 2017) delivers lessons in storytelling, creating an original, intelligent, subversive, agonizing and tragicomical movie with monsters, playing with the genre’s cliché and without a Hollywood recipe.
The monster’s scheme and its movements were designed with the director’s involvement who was inspired by the real discovery of a strange fish with an S shaped spine in the River Han!
The monster’s much smaller and more realistic dimensions than that of a Kaiju, add to its elusiveness as much to the suspense, as it can easily disappear in the sewers around the Han River, only to suddenly emerge with equally lethal effects.
The clear political subtext about the continued presence and involvement of the U.S. throughout the modern South Korean history, didn’t fail to impress ... the North Koreans who praised the film for its content.
So this classic story of everyday people, who in the face of disaster, do extraordinary things, makes a multi-level, agonizing, sentimental and horrifying monster movie.