11:00 - 1st June 2014, by David West


When a group of illegal immigrants are smuggled from Hong Kong to South Korea in a shipping container, they bring with them a lethal form of the H5N1 bird flu virus that mutates in the pressure cooker environment of the metal transporter. Once the container-turned-sarcophagus is opened on arrival in South Korea, the virus is let loose on the unsuspecting populace of the city of Bundang. Virologist Kim In-hae (Soo-ae) is the first to identify the deadly flu strand, which spreads with alarming speed and proves completely fatal. As the local government puts the city under lockdown, In-hae struggles to protect her young daughter Mirre (Park Min-ha) but finds help in the form of brave Emergency Response Team worker Kang Ji-goo (Jang Hyeok). However, as the situation grows ever more desperate inside Bundang, the authorities resort to extreme measures to contain the outbreak.

Kim Sang-su's Flu is a big budget disaster movie that taps into contemporary anxieties about pandemic viruses. It is one of those movies where everything that can go wrong, does. And then gets worse. From panic stricken mobs, to violent gangsters, to Mirre constantly wandering off and getting lost, the plot builds up to include martial law and fighter planes. It is gleefully over the top, but yet always ridiculously, shamelessly entertaining. Soo-ae is sympathetic as the single mom trying to protect her child at any cost, and Jang Hyeok blends charisma and bravery as Ji-goo, but they are both acted off the screen by Park Min-ha who steals every scene she's in. By the time Mirre is shielding her mother from the army, all sense of proportion has long since vanished but Park Min-ha has emerged as a star in the making.

Ma Dong-seok and Lee Hae-joon provide villains for the story. Ma Dong-seok plays an ex-army officer looking to profit from the outbreak, while Lee's character, the violent people trafficker Byeong-gi, is like the proverbial bad penny. His recurrent appearances, always at the worst possible moment, trample all over credulity but then anyone hoping for gritty realism is watching the wrong movie. There is some rather blatant anti-US sentiment in the second half of the film with scenes of the South Korean President arguing with a US representative called Mr Snyder, although it's not completely clear just who this Snyder is - a diplomat? CIA Section Chief? Satan incarnate? What is clear is that Snyder is evil, and thinks that wiping Bundang off the map is the best response to the pandemic. Will the noble President stand up to the callous American imperialist? Is kimchi spicy?

Flu embraces the melodramatic possibilities of the disaster film and holds them tight to its heart. The plot device of the illegal immigrants spreading the mutated flu virus sounds like something from The Daily Mail or the Korean equivalent thereof, but this is not a film that trades in subtlety. If you like unabashed melodrama alongside widespread death and destruction, Flu will prove infectious.

Perhaps Flu is meant to be enjoyed as a hard-hitting drama ripped straight from the headlines, but it works best as a ramped-up B-movie guilty pleasure.
SCORE: 4/5
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