Hong Kong, April 2014. Illegal immigrants are smuggled in a container headed to Bundang, which is near Seoul, South Korea. The container arrives full of dead immigrants except for one man carrying a form of avian flu that evolves rapidly and is extremely contagious. Byeong-woo (Lee Sang-yeob), one of the brothers who opens the container, dies from the illness but an outbreak has already begun as the virus spreads. The epidemic puts Bundang in a state of absolute pandemonium. The city full of 472,000 residents is eventually shut down as the government forces everyone, infected or not, into quarantine camps. The scramble to find a vaccine becomes a high priority but even more so for doctor and single mother Kim In-hae (Soo Ae) whose daughter recently contracted the virus. A rescue worker named Kang Jigu (Jang Hyuk) goes above and beyond his normal duties to protect In-hae and her daughter Mirre (Park Min-ha). Sticking together proves to be their only option for survival as the city of Bundang is torn apart thanks to the constant game of tug of war between the government and those who have given in to the virus.
Perhaps the biggest accomplishment "The Flu" can take pride in bragging about is that it's able to make its devastating epidemic feel like it's affecting more of the general populace in comparison to the sloppy pandemic in "World War Z." While "World War Z" was technically more about zombies and affected the entire world, it revolved around Brad Pitt's Gerry Lane and his family a little too much. The virus was out there leaping across continents and we were stuck watching Gerry and his unfortunate experience on an airplane or Gerry drinking Pepsi in his down time. The two films have a common thread of a virus spreading rapidly and the desperate urge to find a way to fight it before it's too late. While "The Flu" manages to contain the mayhem to one city, you see far more than Jigu and In-hae. The large population of Bundang makes the disease seem bigger than it is, but at the same time feel like it's on a big enough scale that the entire world takes notice. It's as if "World War Z" kept blinders on its audience while "The Flu" happily took those blinders and hurled them into the dumpster.
While the virus is off turning a grocery store into violent chaos, causing people to break out in horrible skin rashes, uncontrollable coughs, and regurgitate blood, and individuals suddenly realize how helpless they are when they're introduced to the fact that their loved ones have been infected, Jigu continues to fight an uphill battle. The Jigu character is extremely selfless. Even in a state of panic where everyone should be worrying about him or herself, Jigu goes out of his way to help those in need. He's a very noble person that maybe takes a bit too much pride in his work. Then there's In-hae who doesn't want the help of anyone else, doesn't trust anyone, and talks down to everyone around her. As you watch "The Flu," In-hae's defenses slowly begin to fall. Not only because of what her daughter is going through, but because of Jigu's generosity.
The one downfall the disaster film is always coming back to is that it is way too melodramatic for its own good, especially in the second hour. The atmosphere becomes more and more depressing and would be extremely affective if it wasn't for the film making room for characters running full speed to dramatic music or Mirre completely blowing everything out of proportion in the final act. It's also extremely peculiar that the actors that speak English in this film are the worst actors of the entire cast. Foreign actors in American films often can't act and that seems to also go for American or English actors in foreign films, as well. Why is that?
The constant arguing between the doctors and the congressmen along with the Minister is rather strange, as well. On one hand, the doctors have a vision that will protect the people of Bundang while the congressmen seem to be looking out for all of Korea and or the rest of the world. But at the same time, the congressmen are extremely coldhearted. “If a few people have to die to save the country, so be it.” Half the population is at risk at one point; 200,000 people. When the President gets there and the men below him begin to override him it becomes more than a little ridiculous. Meanwhile, those who haven’t been infected by the virus are stuck in camps with those who have and are at risk of contracting it yet nobody who has the power is willing to do anything about it. It’s a complete mess that is absolutely a believable argument, but you begin to wonder why more people fighting for the people don’t have more influence.
"The Flu" can best be described as South Korea's answer to "Contagion." The film is outright heartbreaking at times as some of the imagery, like the massive amount of dead bodies that have to be handled by a crane and burned to "make room," is agonizing in the sense that it will stick to your brain like a fly to flypaper long after the film ends. If it wasn't for the film injecting a near lethal amount of theatrics into an already harrowing story, "The Flu" would otherwise be the best disaster film to come along since "The Tower."
"The Flu" had a limited theatrical run in the US begin August 30.