Thursday, August 15, 2013

Flu: Hold that Cough

It is easy to understand why pandemic thrillers might strike a chord with Korean audiences.  Watching a few SARS and Bird Flu outbreaks rip through our hemisphere would grab our attention too.  A year or so after unleashing Park Jung-woo’s Deranged, CJ Entertainment breaks out the hazmat suits again with Kim Sung-su’s Flu (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

Dr. Kim In-hae ought to have been more gracious when daring fireman Kang Ji-koo pulled her out of the massive sinkhole that gave way beneath her car.  Unfortunately, infectious disease specialists are not always very warm and fuzzy.  Her bedside manner will not improve when she learns what a human trafficking ring inadvertently smuggled into the country: a highly contagious mutated strain of avian flu.

Through an unlikely set of circumstances, Kang befriends Dr. Kim’s adorable but demanding daughter, Mi-reu, in hopes it will pay dividends with her mother.  As a result, when the health authorities lock-down the bustling Seoul suburb of Bundang, Kang becomes Mi-reu’s protector.  Unfortunately, she seems to be developing a cough.

As in Deranged, human nature takes a nasty turn when confronting a virulent form of microscopic mortality.  However, Deranged’s parasitic McGuffin manifested itself in a more intriguing way this titular flu.  Those afflicted in Bundang simply start to cough, break out in rashes, and die—except for the mysterious survivor of that fateful human cargo container.

It is all kinds of manipulative, but the relationship between Kang and young Kim is still highly effective.  As the former, Jang Hyuk nicely balances grit and swagger, while Park Min-ha is cinematically cute and surprisingly natural on-screen as Mi-reu.  Superstar Soo-ae is also appropriately intense as Dr. Kim.  Alas, most of the authorities are just cardboard cut-out villains.  Regrettably, this is especially true of the distinctly anti-American portrayal of various Yankee military and medical advisors, most notably the ruthless Schneider (not uncommonly a Jewish surname, adding an additional layer of awkwardness to the film).  Only Ma Dong-seok’s Jeon Kook-hwan, a military officer turned rogue provocateur, is a worthy heavy.

Flu operates on an impressive scale, incorporating some big set pieces and a way over the top climatic stand-off.  In contrast, Deranged more trenchantly explores the perils of the mob mentality running riot.  Indeed, it is the superior outbreak movie.  A better melodrama than a viral thriller, Flu is just sort of okay overall.  Mostly for Soo-ae fans and hot zone junkies, Flu opens tomorrow (8/16) in Los Angeles at the CGV Cinemas and September 6th in New York (Queens) at the AMC Bay Terrace.