The Host (2007) dir. Joon-ho Bong
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Hae-il Park, Du-na Bae
“The Host” is the biggest film ever to come out of Korea, a fun monster movie and a mixture of “Alien”, “Godzilla”, and all the Roland Emmerich-disaster films rolled up into one, with an unquestionably peculiar Korean spin to it.
The opening is clever: years before today, an American scientist at the U.S. Army base in Seoul instructs his Korean subordinate to drain a bottle of dusty, expired formaldehyde into the drain. The Korean man objects saying it will end up in the Han River harming the tepid waters. The scientist wonderfully typifies the environmentally unfriendly “Ugly American.” The Korean follows orders and proceeds to drain the bottle into the sink, but when the camera pans right we see there are hundreds of bottles to dispose of. This slap-in-your-face expository set up is a great send up of the B-monster-film genre.
Cut to present day, on the banks of the beautiful Han River, we meet the Park family operating a kiosk selling food and snacks to tourists. In the middle of the serene day, everyone’s attention is curiously drawn to an odd shape hanging underneath a bridge in the distance. When the shape falls into the water the quick glimpse reveals it’s a large creature of some sort. Several moments later it swims to shore and appears with great shock charging towards a group of tourists on the bank of the river. One of the rules of the monster genre is to hide the creature from full view of the audience until at least the second act, and in the case of Jaws, Alien and some others, the third act. But in "The Host" we dramatically see the alien in its full glory in this first scene. This is the first of many great shocks and surprises in this genre-send up film.
Hyeon-Siu Park, the daughter of the kiosk operator is sucked into the jowls of the beast and taken away. The remainder of the film portrays the family’s search to find the beast and rescue the girl. In addition to the scares Joon-ho crafts some great comic scenes, including a hilarious grieving scene for the victims of this first attack. Joon-ho sets up the family’s dysfunctionality when they start fighting with each other, while mourning at the foot of their child’s memorial.
The family provides the majority of the laughs, Gang-du is the father of Hyeon-Siu, but a real dimwit who takes the blame for letting his daughter go, his brother, Nam-il, is an unemployed university graduate and is self-conscious for his underachievements, and the sister, Nam-ju, is a famous archer, who feels shame for winning a ‘bronze’ in the latest world championships. The dynamic of these three fuels the film in between the monster moments.
But it’s the monster moments that make the film. The beast is truly scary and unique as well. It’s like a giant mutated piranha/lizard with dash of Alien and Predator thrown in. The special effects by New Zealand’s famed Weta Workshop (“Lord of the Rings” and “King Kong”) is top-notch and completely believable.
The send up of the SARS scare provides added poignancy and humour not to mention the not-so-subtle jabs at the anti-Kyoto, military-heavy American influence in the Korean culture. The result is a funny, scary and highly entertaining piece of pulp cinema. Enjoy.