Flu (2013)

Rating: B-

Dir: Kim Sung-su
Star: Jang Hyuk, Soo Ae, Park Min-ha, Yoo Hae-jin

With Ebola rampaging its way through Africa, this Korean film is particularly timely, depicting the arrival in a suburb of Seoul of a shipping container full of illegal immigrants, one of who is carrying a lethal strain of bird flu. In a matter of hours, the highly-infectious disease is moving like wildfire through the urban population, causing panic and disorder, and causing the government to impose tight quarantine on the suburb in order to protect the capital. Inside the infected zone, rescue worker Kang Ji-goo (Hyuk), works with nurse and single mother Kim In-hae (Soo Ae), to track down the carrier, because his survival suggests he may be able to provide antibodies that can be used to prepare a vaccine. But then In-hae’s young daughter Mi-reu (Park) starts to develop a nasty cough, and the government comes under increasing pressure to take even more stringent measures to prevent the infection from spreading any further.

The film is at its best capturing the potential horrors of a major outbreak of a lethal virus in a densely-populated area. We’re talking concentration camps where the infected are separated from the potentially infected, with the latter being thrown into “plague pits” – regardless of whether they’re actually dead. There’s a real sense of plausibility about this, and the helplessness of a government, which is left to make impossible choices. Against this backdrop, the two main leads are a bit of a mixed bag, and there are elements of the story which rely far too much on convenient coincidence. It’s also anti-foreigner in a way which would never be permitted by Hollywood. But Park makes an absolutely charming moppet in a lovely performance, capped by a beautiful moment at the end. I don’t think I’ve seen a film stolen so completely by a six-year-old, since the glory days of Dakota Fanning. She gives the film its emotional heart and, combined with the hellish pragmatism on display, makes this worth a watch.