Considering the amount of widespread concern that the bird flu and then the swine flu generated it is not surprising that this 2013 South Korean film Gamgi, or Flu, decided to go with the avian flu as their pandemic boogeyman in the priceless picture about a highly contagious virus that threatens to overtake the whole of Korea. Starring Hyuk Jang (Please Teach Me English, Maybe) and Soo Ae (Midnight FM, Mask) and directed by Sung-su Kim (who also directed Jang in Please Teach Me English) Flu starts off rather light-hearted, almost comical in nature.
Here is where the two leads “meet cute” and the audience knows that they will become an “item” before the film ends. Jang, plays an emergency rescue technician (Ji-Koo) who helps Dr. In-Hye (Soo Ae) out of her dangling car before it crashes to the bottom of a chasm. While Ji-Koo has been instantly smitten, the doctor is not impressed as her dress was torn in the rescue.
Later, when Jang tries to get on her good side, she accuses him of being “stuck up” because of his job. When she approaches him to get her purse back, because of some important data she needs at work, he refuses. He then changes his mind and retrieves her purse, meeting her daughter Mirre (who is a delightful little actress who is not even listed on IMDb, or if she is it isn’t clear) and striking up an immediate bond.
At the start of the film, human traffickers are closing up a shipping container of illegal aliens who want admittance to South Korea for work. One man is sick and when the load of people arrive at Bundang, all the immigrants are dead bar one. He escapes when the two local traffickers come to open up the container. One of the men is infected and he starts the contagion in the town.
The avian flu spreads quickly, it is an airborne virus, and soon people are dropping to the ground spouting blood and covered in a rash. As medical authorities race to find the escaped survivor to develop an antibody the professional politicians take over and make things worse.
South Korean cinema regularly produces films that are of top quality and this movie is no exception. It is easy to get caught up in the action as it is unrelenting and by the end of the film the viewer is exhausted, but well entertained. Hyuk Jang proves he can do a lot more than straight comedy in a performance that runs the gamut of emotions.
The pairing of this charismatic actor with Soo-Ae, who was brilliant in the 2010 thriller Midnight FM, was casting perfection. They have an onscreen chemistry that hums like an electrical current on steroids. The scope of the film is impressive with set pieces that includes massive quarantine camps, and using the entire backdrop of Bundang to good effect.
It runs long at two hours and one minute but the story is compelling and the time flies by while the audience cheers on the main players and the race to save all of South Korea. It is a topical film, at one point one of the useless politicians chides the medical community for building up the swine flu, and though the film was released in 2013 it is still relevant.
Flu, aka Gamgi is streaming on US Netflix. For those who love South Korean cinema this is a 5 out of 5 star film.