This was a strange, strange film. I enjoyed the surreal moments but as it wore on I realised the lack of cultural sensitivity was really bothering me.
Spoiler alert: don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The first thing that annoyed me was the Korean accent of the actress in the opening scene who played the mother of the girl who sees the giant “monster” for the first time. Her intonation sounded forced and unnatural. (Not that I have a great Korean accent myself but that’s another story – I didn’t pretend to have a great Korean accent and botch my lines in a Hollywood blockbuster at least.) So that bothered me.
The second thing that bothered me was the idea that two irresponsible American alcoholics could wreak havoc in Seoul by walking around a little children’s playground. For me, this implies that causing large-scale devastation and loss of life in far-flung (and unimportant) countries such as South Korea is literally a walk in the park, even if you are an American loser.
The film was also released at a catastrophically ironic time in a geopolitical sense: with Trump’s trigger-happy warmongering and North Korean military posturing, the threat of a nuclear war that could lay waste to Seoul is more real than ever. So to imply that two drunken idiots can lay waste to the city on a whim by trudging through a children’s playground is insulting at the very least and actually quite offensive if you stop to think about the wider context.
Despite the fact that I’m not Korean, I feel offended on behalf of all Koreans in light of the complete lack of cultural consideration that has gone into the idea for this movie. Sure it’s all make-believe and presumably no actual Koreans were harmed in the making of the movie, but while CGI monsters rampaged through the city, I felt a little bit like the whole film was the cinematic equivalent of an inebriated American marine pissing all over the streets of Seoul. (NB: It probably doesn’t help that my one lasting impression of American marines in Seoul was of a bunch of idiots talking loudly on the subway about their sexual exploits with the local women as if they were some kind of sub-species.)
My question is why is a Spanish film maker spending a ton of money making a film about trashing Seoul? I’m guessing he’s a wannabe arthouse director with his head in the clouds who didn’t stop to think about the cultural implications of his choice of “stomping ground” for his main characters.
And the “apology” to Seoul that we see Oscar get from his friend is: A) written terribly, like it was written by a hapless non-native runner on set hastily copying out Korean characters and B) it looked like it was translated using Google Translate as it didn’t use any honorifics (which you should really do if you’re apologising for killing hundreds of people) and used the casual form of “sorry” (“미안해”) rather than a more heartfelt and sincere choice that would have fit better given the supposed seriousness of the situation. Even I could tell the wording was pretty shoddy and I have the same level of Korean literacy as an 11 year old. I think this is an irresponsible oversight considering the budget I imagine the director had at his disposal.
I also felt Anne Hathaway’s character was unconvincing. I’ve skim-read a few gushing reviews online but I don’t think she was anything to write home about, to be honest. I don’t think she really came across as an alcoholic at all. It appeared to me like she was trying to channel a manic pixie girl vibe but not quite managing to get it right. And Dan Stevens, who played her uptight English ex-boyfriend, was even less convincing. I wondered whether he was just there to sound English and be annoying. Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) was the most convincing character of them all, and I feel that he really put on an increasingly unsettling performance as the friend from elementary school with latent psychopathic tendencies.
Now I am of course aware that Hollywood doesn’t really take a nuanced approach to depicting non-American locations but I felt they really cut corners as far as the Korean content was concerned, and I would be interested to see how this film is received in Korea, if it even makes it into cinemas out there.
Of course, now that I’ve written disparaging comments about the lack of cultural sensitivity, I’m sure it will probably prove to be popular in Korea because I imagine they’re suckers for anything Korean in a Hollywood film. They’re probably so used to it they are just glad South Korea got a mention. But I just felt I needed to say my piece. So here it is.