Flu (2013)



South Korea. 2013.


Director – Kim Sung-su, Screenplay – Kim Sung-su & Lee Yeong-jong, Story – Jung Jae-ho, Producers – Teddy Jung & Kim Seong-jin, Photography – Lee Mo-gae, Music – Kim Tae-seong, Visual Effects Supervisor – Jae Hwan Ryu, Production Design – Park Il-hyun. Production Company – i Love Cinema


Hyuk Jang (Kang Ji-koo), Soo Ae (Kim In-hae), Park Min-ah (Kim Mi-reu), Hae-jin Yoo (Bae Kyung-ub), Lee Sang-Yeob (Byeong-woo), Cha In-Pyo (The President), Boris Stout (Snyder)


In Bundang, South Korea, people smugglers open a container from Hong Kong only to find everybody dead from a fatal infection. The sole survivor makes an escape, while the two smugglers stumble out into the city infected, spreading the plague unawares. Emergency worker Kang Ji-koo rescues Kim In-hae after her car crashes several stories down the inner shaft of a building. He is attracted to her but she seems uninterested. Afterwards, Ji-koo goes back down the shaft to retrieve In-hae’s purse and delivers it to her young daughter Mi-reu who cautiously befriends him. In-hae is an epidemiologist and is called in as city hospitals are flooded with those infected with the flu and people begin dying en masse. The city authorities step in and quarantine Bundang from the rest of the country. Ji-koo is with Mi-reu as martial law comes into effect. The populace are rounded up and placed in a quarantine camp where the infected are separated from the others. In-hae tries to hide the fact that Mi-reu is infected but also realises that the escapee from the container is the source of a possible antidote. Meanwhile, American military are pushing the Korean President to exterminate the infected and obliterate Bundang to prevent the infection spreading.

South Korean cinema has been an increasingly growing presence since the 1990s and has placed its unique imprint on a number of genres – most prominently, the Asian ghost story and the gangster film. Flu is a Korean attempt to do something with the outbreak genre.

The contagion and outbreak genre – as typified by Hollywood films such as Outbreak (1995) and Contagion (2011) and a host of B-budget others – has a fairly mapped out series of cliches that it runs by. Flu buys into most of these – the outbreak from its small unnoticed beginnings; the authorities trying to deny/cover things up; the lone doctor chasing a potential cure in a nail-biting countdown as the military plan to eradicate the entire town to stop the spread. Flu never adds anything particularly new to the mix or does anything to vary the cliches. Much of the plot feels as though it has been taken direct from Outbreak – right down to borrowing aspects like the digital effect of germs flying through the air after they are sneezed and infect others to the lone person standing up to defy the military as bombers come to wipe out the city.

The plotting follows conventional patterns, nevertheless director Kim Sung-su does a good job of wheeling around the widescreen imagery – the police battering crowds as they riot in a supermarket; the military cordons on the street; the helicopters overhead; the digging of mass graves and Hyuk Jang’s almost impossible task of trying to find one person still alive who has the antidote among the thousands of bodies.

Flu starts to come together with modest tension during the scenes at the internment camp. Again, the story is hardly world-shattering but Kim Sung-su wields the stock elements into something that works reasonably well. The big climactic scenes with the crowd defying the military just as they prepare to bomb the city is taken direct from the climax of Outbreak. What is unusual about this – I don’t know much about South Korean politics, how much power the US military wields in the country or whether this is any accurate representation of the relationship that exists between the two countries – is an eyebrow-raising scene where the US military make the abrupt decision to countermand the Korean President and order the destruction of one his own cities and he is meekly required to sit back unable to do anything about it.

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