The Hosts’ Beginning: A Foreshadowing of the Monster Pandemic
This assignment will function a bit differently from previous module activities. Instead of researching a topic/subject and writing about it, you will construct an analysis of a sequence (scene) from a film and discuss what film elements and cinematic techniques are being utilized in this sequence to achieve meaning for its viewer. In other words, you will consider what content (narrative) is created by these elements and techniques (form).
GRADING: See the Module Activity Grading Criteria for detailed information regarding the minimum requirements. Please note that there is no minimum research requirement for this module activity.
MATERIALS: Use Chapter 9 in your textbook, the Chapter 9 Required Online Exploration, and the Examples of Film Sequences link. You will also need to gain access to one of the following four films all directed by Bong Joon-ho. Be sure that you are getting the title directed by Bong Joon-ho, which is why I provide the release date and the link directly to Amazon for three of them; other films with the same name for a couple of them exist out there, so don’t get confused. The titles are:
- The Host (2006)
• Amazon Prime: https://www.amazon.com/Host-English-Subtitled-Kang-ho-Song/dp/B0026ATDQE/ref=sr_1_5?crid=1FMYNAFYTBL4R&dchild=1&keywords=bong+joon-ho&qid=1585160581&sprefix=bong+j%2Caps%2C182&sr=8-5
- Mother (2009)
• Amazon Prime: https://www.amazon.com/Mother-Bong-Joon-Ho/dp/B003WKT27C/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1FMYNAFYTBL4R&dchild=1&keywords=bong+joon-ho&qid=1585160539&sprefix=bong+j%2Caps%2C182&sr=8-1
- Okja (2017)
• Available on Netflix only
- Parasite (2019)
• Amazon Prime: https://www.amazon.com/Parasite-English-Subtitled-Kang-Song/dp/B07YM14FRG/ref=sr_1_4?crid=1FMYNAFYTBL4R&dchild=1&keywords=bong+joon-ho&qid=1585160581&sprefix=bong+j%2Caps%2C182&sr=8-4
Note: Copyrights of these films change often, so you may find these films on various streaming services. For example, I've seen The Host available on YouTube for free in the past for a limited time before being available as a rental. I've also seen these titles pop up on HBO Max, hulu, The Criterion Channel, MUBI, and other streaming services, so do a little digging because you may find one or more of these titles on services you already subscribe to. Worst case scenario is that you will need to put out some money to rent a title, but usually you can find at least one for under $5. It's also worth noting that many streaming services offer free trials.
After choosing a film from above and watching it at least once, your first task when approaching this assignment is to choose a sequence from the film to focus on for your sequence analysis. To help you choose a worthwhile sequence to work with, consider the following questions:
- What is the narrative structure? How is the story being told?
- What sequences from the film best represent its use of film language? Remember, a sequence in a film works like a chapter in a book; it has distinct beginning and ending points.
- How are specific techniques within the film used to create ideas (in other words, how does form create content?) and what sequences fully showcase the director’s use of film language?
- What is particularly interesting about this film in terms of its form and style?
- What themes are explored in the film?
Keep in mind that these questions exist to help you identify a noteworthy sequence to work with. In some cases, I've had students answer these questions and submit it as their "analysis." Needless to say, they didn't cover the requirements of the assignment. The purpose of this assignment is to show me that you can apply and combine/synthesize the various elements, concepts, and techniques you have learned into a provocative sequence analysis, so this is just the starting point, since a good sequence analysis requires a good sequence to work with.
Now for the specifics of the written sequence analysis that you will submit for grading:
Provide a single sentence to explain the plot summary in the beginning (without any major spoilers!); this is a sequence analysis, not a summary of the film’s plot and your single sentence should be in your own words, as should the entire analysis. Recognize that themes and motifs in your chosen film are just as important as aesthetic techniques and you want to give adequate coverage to form in your sequence analysis.
Next, provide the beginning and end times for the sequence. Aside from this, explain where the sequence takes place in the film. No more than two sentences should suffice.
And now it's time to write your analysis. You should assume authority over the analysis of your chosen film (i.e. write as an expert) and this analysis should not use any outside sources. This should be your interpretation of one sequence of a cinematic text and you should comment on all of the various film elements that make this particular sequence important and noteworthy.
Focus on two of the film elements explored in this module that stand out in your chosen film sequence. Here is a short list of the main film elements we have focused on in this module:
- Production Design
The goal is to assert evaluative claims about your chosen film and to analyze both the film’s form (elements and techniques) and its content (narrative, themes, and ideology) to support your claims. A fun title always helps too!
The Hosts’ Beginning: A Foreshadowing of the Monster Pandemic
When a mutant squid monster – created six years after the Yongsan American military base releases toxic chemicals into the drain – emerges from Seoul’s Han River and attacks the city’s residents, the loving family of one victim does everything it can to save her from the grasp of the beast.
Beginning and End Times of the Sequence and Where It Takes Place in the Film
The sequence takes place at the film’s beginning from the 59th second to the sixth minute. These events form the basis of the film – the dumping of 200 bottles of formaldehyde down a drain that leads to the Han River. Bong Joon-ho introduces the film with a subtle but profound tracking movement that shows much more than it appears to do at first. Cinematographic techniques and the production design is critical to conveying the film’s objective (Visual-memory, 2022). The starting scene is a long shot of the laboratory and the American pathologist and his Korean assistant preparing to dispose of “dirty formaldehyde” contained in bottles that are “coated with a layer of dust.” The assistant pathologist tries to resist, claiming that these are toxic chemicals that should not be poured into the Han river and that they ought to follow the regulations for disposing of such chemicals. The chief pathologist insists that they do so since the Han river is broad, and they, too, should think “broadly” rather than constrict their minds.
Foreshadowing the pandemic that follows, Bong Joon-ho introduces the mutant squid monster with a scene of erroneous decision-making framed through the low-key lighting of the laboratory where the pathologist makes the irreversible mistake. Consumed with seemingly malicious intent, the pathologist livens things up by forcing his assistant to do the unthinkable. In doing so, the spectators have no other choice but to engage and consider the character’s insensible actions and the film’s faintly repressive tone and milieu. To me, this sequence is an index of the American government’s recklessness and the powerlessness of the local communities. America has developed military bases in different parts of the world, and its actions have always had a significant impact on the local community. But, as future scenes demonstrate, while what the government does – through its agencies and representatives is important in affecting people’s quality of life – locals are sometimes responsible for what occurs them for being oblivious and indifferent.
From the opening scene’s long shot, the camera pans slightly to the right before Bong Joon-ho cuts to a close-up of the individuals at this scene – first the chief pathologist and then his assistant. The government pathologist holds a bottle of formaldehyde in his hands as he explains why the assistant should start by dumping the contents of these bottles before cleaning the entire laboratory because the pathologist hates dust. The camera tracks a little bit to the right as the two individuals talk to each other until the pouring of the liquid replaces the sound of the two scientists’ conversations. As the assistant pours the toxic chemicals into the sink, the camera pans slightly from left to right, showing many bottles that the scientist has already emptied with a scary soundtrack that emphasizes the gravity of this decision heard in the background. The director then performs a smooth scenic transition from the lab to the Han river and two people fishing there. Bong Joon-ho shows the fishermen from a bird’s eye angle and adds the sound of a flowing river to the background soundtrack to emphasize the new setting.
One of the fishermen discovers a mutant fish and is shocked by its form. They then joke about it, showing how indifferent and oblivious people can become, even when danger lurks in the dark. The camera then pans slowly to the right to show the mutant fish swimming away before Bong Joon-ho cuts it to a new scene that shows a man who wants to commit suicide. Two people try to save the man but fail. The suicidal individual also tells them that there is a huge creature underneath the water, but when they cannot see it, he commits suicide, further insinuating that people can be ignorant as their world gets destroyed and danger lurks everywhere. A film’s production design and cinematography confirm the purpose of the film and preserves its entertaining qualities (Filmsite, 2022). The film director uses them effectively to pass a convincing message about society while entertaining the audience. This sequence of events forms the basis of the entire film, whose focus is the emergence of a monster about six years after dumping the toxic chemicals in the drain that led to the Han river.
Filmsite (2022). Film terms glossary. https://www.filmsite.org/filmterms.html
Visual-memory (2022). The 'grammar' of television and film. http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/short/gramtv.html
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