BCM320 Blog Post 1: (Re)considering My Lens of Viewing Asian Cultures: A Lesson from #TheHost Screening Session

Set along the Han River, The Host (2006) is a South Korean monster blockbuster, which around a middle-class family’s search-and-rescue attempt to save their youngest family member kidnapped by a monster emerging from the formaldehyde-contaminated river.

Despite a monstrous box office success, The Host (2006) has never appealed to me. As soon as I knew The Host is pure Korean production, my disinterest in the screening grew. I am neither a fan of K-films nor the monster genre. I often find K-films’ dialogues overacting, which, I believe, loosely depict South Koreans’ interpersonal communication in reality. Furthermore, a monster-theme movie sounds like a cliché to me with its predictable plot development. Considering that my aversion to sci-fi films gradually changed into a more positive experience after each Future Culture class’s (BCM325) screening session last semester, I tried to stay open-minded to appraise the film. This helped me to realise later that my pre-existing impression of K-films’ exaggerated conversations mostly derives from their television dramas rather than movies. The Host is indeed a dysfunctional, fact-based fiction, which closely features not only the US military’s illegal discharge of toxic chemical into the Han River but also the everyday vernacular of people living on its banks.

I constantly refreshed the #BCM320 tweeting feed for prompts and ideas as I was struggling to comment on the film. From my peers’ tweets, I could understand why The Host becomes a local and global success. The innominate monster in the movie ably acts as the leverage for a coalescent narrative structure, allowing layers of meanings to emerge for interpretation. During the screening, I encountered various connotations of the monster. While some (mostly Australians) perceived the monster as the consequence of bio-pollution, I noticed that Asians (including myself), viewed it as a metaphor of the corrupted pro-America South Korean government. Asians’ anti-American sentiment is known to stem from the history of Western imperialism and colonialism in Asia, especially in the context of the US’s growing presence in the region. Those different interpretations somehow explain the success The Host achieved, showing that the film can reach a broad audience regardless of their cultural backgrounds and knowledge. 

Although others’ tweets helped me gain insights into the film, I felt that I became more hesitated to share my own thoughts by reading them. Considering that most of my friends’ tweets were filled with surprises and excitement of exploring a new culture, I tried to find “bizarre” details of The Host to “surprise” my friends. As I am familiar with South Korean culture, I indeed found more commons in the film rather “surprises” to tweet about. For example, I believed The Host’s dialogues are normal, while many Australians found them exaggerated. Since I hardly bothered looking into differences between South Korean and Australian communication in particular, and perhaps Eastern and Western communication in general, I missed many chances to explore new aspects of both cultures and comment on important scenes.

It was not until later that I realise how ethnocentric my thinking was. As one of the few Asians in the class, I thought I knew more than anyone else about South Korea. Thus, I overlooked ideas that were different from and contrasting to my knowledge. Exaggerated non-verbal cues is indeed a feature of a high-context culture like South Korea, where words are ambiguous and less important than body language (Dwyer 2013). As Australia is a low-context culture, it is understandable that the majority of my class considered such communication as dramatic and overreacting. Furthermore, my attempt to “surprise” my Australian friends only fosters (self-)orientalism rather than cultural knowledge exchange (Leong & Woods 2017). I have never thought that I would “fail” at understanding and practicing Asian values, yet I really did that time. 

Overall, the Digital Asia subject (BCM320) helps me reflect on my Asian values and how I should communicate them with people living outside of my cultural sphere. Despite my initial treatment of BCM320’s live-tweeting as another BCM325’s digital autoethnography, which mainly concerns online traction, I then began to view it as a rather autoethnography of cultural communication in the cybersphere. In order to improve in discussing cultural values, I think I need to constantly challenge my “common senses” and become more “curious” to broaden my horizons and enhance cultural sensitivity. 


Featured image: https://dottsmediahouse.com/2018/12/17/twitter-hashtags-guide-to-finding-and-using-the-right-ones/

Dwayer, J 2013, Communication for business and the profession: Strategies and skills, 5th edn, Pearson Australia, Frenchs Forest, NSW.

Ellis, C, Adams, TE, Bochner, AP 2010, “Autoethnography: An Overview”, Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 1-13.

Leong, S & Woods, D 2017, “‘I Don’t Care About Asia’: Teaching Asia in Australia”, Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 41, no. 3, pp. 367-379.

Published by

Trang Bùi

BCM-BINTs | Class of 2021 | UOW

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