Film Title: Flu
Director: Kim Sung-su
Starring: Jang Hyuk, Soo Ae, Park Min-ha, Kim Ki-hyun
Running Time: 122 min
’Tis the season for splutters and sneezes, so this Korean outbreak thriller – a smash hit Way Out East – provides a timely reminder to keep tissues (and where possible, radiation suits) on hand.
Director Kim Sung-su’s disaster film starts in familiar cornball territory as Ji-Goo (Jang Hyuk), a dashing young emergency response worker, pulls Kim In-hae (Soo Ae), a doctor and single mom, from a car accident. A post-rescue mix-up with a phone allows Ji-Goo to bond with Kim’s adorable young daughter, Mi-reu (the remarkable Park Min-ha), just before the child befriends Mongsai, a refugee from Hong Kong and the only flu survivor to emerge alive from a container carrying illegal immigrants into South Korea.
Some neat cross-cutting sets up the initial spread of the contagion: a new bride sneezes at the end of her wedding ceremony, a traffic warden has a cough, a bus driver is under the weather. From these innocuous sniffles it long before the virus has a deadly hold in a salubrious suburb just south of Seoul. Elsewhere doctors and politicians squabble over the correct protocol: a quarantine of this size will inspire panic but the alternatives may be bleak.
So far, so familiar. But some 70 minutes in, even hardened disaster movie veterans are in for a nasty shock as the camera pulls back to reveal the terrifying extent of the infection and the authorities’ brutal efforts to contain the virus. There are sly political digs at the US as the heroic president (Cha In-pyo) attempts to fight ill-defined international powers-that-be (Boris Stout, in particular) and their demands for martial law and, finally, mass extermination, lest the virus go global.
Flu isn’t exactly nuanced – the score is predictable, the post-credits gag is cheesy. But it is effective in its roll out of Hail Mary dashes, backroom skulduggery and grisly fatalities on an epic scale. The virus, ultimately, is rather less scary than the devolution into looting, rioting and killing. Disaster flicks are seldom so impressively Darwinian.