I wrote the following review shortly after viewing The Host at the excellent Galaxy Cinema in Cary, NC.
Just tonight, I watched the DVD… if you haven’t seen this film, you really need to.
From director Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder) comes a monster film that Hollywood is under the impression it has been making for the past thirty or so years.
The Host made cinema history in its home of South Korea in 2006 – a monster film, opening on a record number of screens, and breaking the box-office records throughout its domestic run. From July through November, the film sold over 13 million tickets, making it the highest grossing South Korean film of all time, beating the previous leader The King and the Clown, which had attracted 12.3 million people. Take that TMNT!
While a monster film, The Host has many genre elements of both comedy and drama. The movie follows the after-effects of a large dumping of chemicals from a United States Army base into the Han River. Years pass and the Han riverside is a favorite tourist spot and family picnic location. The focus of the film is a tightly knit family. Hee-Bong, the elder parent of the family, runs a snack bar on the riverside selling junk food and fried squid (I’m assuming it’s the equivalent of my native fried dough). His son, middle brother and co-owner of the snack bar, is the often asleep and dim Park Gang-Du. Park’s daughter, Hyun-Seo is a bright and innocent middle-school girl… things never look good for innocents in any horror film, no matter the language.
Using his limited resources, Hee-Bong has provided for his family as best he can, sending his other son Nam-Il to college and supporting daughter Nam-Joo in Olympic-class archery. Yet Nam-Il is an angry, antisocial drunk and Nam-Joo disappoints her family by bringing home not the gold, but the bronze archery medal.
In no time, the tranquility of the domestic drama is broken by the arrival of the mutated beast. About the size of a suburban vehicle, it lunges out of the water and attacks the holiday makers, finally taking Hyun-Seo with it back into the deeps. The family tries to grieve and draw strength from themselves as the press and military make a botch of things, but due to their almost mutual dislike for each other, even that doesn’t go well. After Park gets a call on his mobile from his daughter, they become motivated. With a single mindset holding them together, they decide to hunt down the monster themselves and rescue Hyun-Seo..
While most monster films I’ve seen (and let me tell you… as a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan, I’ve seen a lot!) feature an intelligent scientist or a pragmatic military as its protagonist, this film has as its hero a quartet of dim-witted, angry people. With no real plan and limited resources, they’re determined to find Hyun-Seo and kill the mutant. In addition to the odd mix of humor and horror, it’s this quality that really makes the film shine for me. I’m a sucker for ‘Sad Sack’ characters and the movie is full of them. Rum notions and bad ideas permetate the story, with even the best of characters’ intentions squashed by even bigger incompetents and a military-spawned solution (a gas dumped from a space-age looking sphere called Agent Yellow) that seems to hurt people far more than the monster.
The Host is probably the best monster film I’ve ever seen, but that’s not why you should see it. The gore and horror are minimal and while the design and effects are top notch, it might bore a viewer looking to see a better Godzilla film. Clocking in at over 2 hours, you’d think I’d have needed that coffee I bought to keep conscious, but really I was wide awake in a way that I am only after seeing a really amazing film. I cannot recommend this highly enough.