Within the first fifteen minutes of “Gwoemul,” director Joon-Ho manages to build up enough tension and characterization to charge at us head on with the central plot. Based on true events, one day an American scientist orders his assistant to empty the remaining jars of Chloroform into his sink. His assistant, in his own feeble way, attempts to protest, but he immediately gives in and dumps almost a hundred jars into the Han River. “Gwoemul” is not just a monster movie, it’s a movie about family, and it’s a movie about the lengths we’ll go to to save our loved ones.

The fantastic yet horrifying attack of the sea monster at the Han River is not only one of the most amazing action scenes to ever be filmed, but Joon-Ho then sideswipes the audience by painting the aftermath of the attack as a true tragedy. In a gut wrenching scene, hundreds grieve their loved ones eaten by the monster, and the victims stand at an altar filled with pictures of the victims as the mourners cry hysterically.

The family we center on is grieving the death of their youngest Hyun-Seo who was taken by the creature and dragged away into the water. To further twist the conventions of the plot, the beast has now infected its victims with a mysterious virus that has spread along their skin, and soon they realize that the beast is only part of the horrors coming to them once the government takes control.

Infected with–what the local government calls a virus–the family breaks free from the hospital to save Hyun-seo who is trapped in a sewer. Joon-Ho not only explores the ravages of the monster, but the chain reaction this massive attack causes on the government, the community, and this disconnected family who decide to band together to save one of their own. One a mentally incapable man, one an Olympic archer, a feeble old man, and an alcoholic.

With very strong performances from the entire cast, and rich character focus, Joon-Ho plays their relationship with startling emotion, leaving them wholly outmatched, but powered by their relentless drive to save the youngest of the family. Joon-Ho’s tale of environmental chaos, government induced hysteria, and a monster that is only instrumental in the bigger picture of anarchy, and the collapse of a civilization under man.

But apocalypse be damned, they’ll confront military, scientists, mobs of head hunters, and an unstoppable beast to get their family back, and that’s enough for them. Joon-Ho’s epic is a masterpiece of monster cinema that’s intelligent, innovative, and reaches down to the basic core of family unity to propel its story beyond mere conventions of science fiction.

“Gwoemul” has been a financial success in its country, praised by many film fans, critically acclaimed, and sports one of the most dynamic stories I’ve seen in years. How could the US not remake it? But they’ll do it all wrong, because in the end, “Gwoemul” is not a monster movie. It’s about a monster that comes between a family.

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