After a container full of illegal immigrants die of an unknown airborne virus enroute from Hong Kong to Korea, the infection spreads like wildfire through port city Bungdang when one of the criminals who smuggled them into the country becomes ill and dies in hospital. With no known cure and the contagion spreading rapidly, the city descends into chaos and the Seoul government locks down Bungdang, quarantining the population. As the army contains the people in a sports stadium/concentration camp, young doctor and single mother In-hae (Soo Ae) and rescue worker Kang (Hyuk Jang) race against time to find an immune survivor and synthesise a cure while the government comes under pressure from the Americans to take military action and contemplates the unthinkable…

Thankfully closer to Wolfgang Petersen’s monkey bothering 1995 medical disaster movie Outbreak, which it blatantly references in one bravura scene of the airborne infection spreading through a busy pharmacy, than Steven Soderbergh’s more sober 2011 Contagion and already a runaway hit in South Korea, The Flu will be one of the highlights of this year’s Korean Film Festival before receiving a wider release later this month.

Sure, it’s hackneyed and more melodramatic than the late, lamented Sunset Beach, but The Flu is undeniably effective, undercutting it’s sentimentality with some frankly harrowing scenes of mass panic, rioting and bleeding orifices as the virus spreads and the government’s increasingly desperate attempts to contain it prove spectacularly ineffective, burning and burying alive the infected using flamethrowers, earthmovers and cranes and military sharpshooters picking off flocks of birds to prevent the spread of disease. The sports stadium being pressed into service as a concentration camp is a concept rich in cultural meaning, calling to mind the Chilean Junta’s use of Santiago’s Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos, the horrors of the Siege of Sarajevo and it’s aftermath or Post-Katrina’s Superdome, each symbolic of government neglect and failure to protect, if not display outright hostility towards, their populace.

There’s also a fine simmering resentment at the West’s proprietary meddling in Korean affairs as represented by the supercilious American government mandarin planning to wipe out infected and uninfected alike by firebombing the city and the beleagured, charismatic young South Korean President’s attempts to stand up to him and his own, weak, backstabbing colleagues.

While far from subtle (c’mon, who’s not gonna get misty when In-hae’s cute adorable 5-year-old daughter stands up to the government machine guns?) The Flu is a tense, crowd-pleasing serving of disaster porn that plays like the opening scenes of World War Z stretched over two hours though thankfully their isn’t a mindless, rage-fuelled, free running, cannibal zombie in sight.

VERDICT: [rating=3]

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