July 27, 2006
Joon-ho Bong and Won-jun Ha
Kang-ho Song as Park Gang-Du
Hie-bong Byeon as Byun Hee-bong
Hae-Il Park as Park Nam-Il
All monster fans will appreciate this gifted newcomer, which combines the talents of Jaws(1975), Alien (1979), the Ebola virus and your friendly neighborhood baboon. In addition to being a fast swimmer, the creature also has a multi-layered mouth, carries a deadly pathogen and has a penchant for swinging on beams beneath bridges. Although it emerged from Seoul’s Han River it finds a suitable lair in a large drainage facility. When not resting, the creature occupies itself with swallowing fleeing victims, who can look forward to a slow and painful digestion where their bones are sucked clean of flesh and organs. Yet, sometimes the creature wants seconds and might grab one, or two with its whip-like tail, then deposit them in his lair, where they stay as his guests until required for sustenance (hence the title, The Host).
The creature is first observed hanging from a bridge over the Han River by individuals lounging at a park. It dives into the water and approaches the onlookers. They wisely call attention to themselves by throwing snacks and beer cans at it. The creature does not emerge from the water, but is observed moments later charging towards them from further down the river. Let the chaos begin! After the first attack, it is discovered that all those in contact with the creature have contracted an aggressive virus and are quarantined. Among them is Park Gang-Du, whose daughter, Hyun-Seo, was taken by the creature and presumed dead. Yet, she somehow manages to phone her father from the creature’s lair. Park Gang-Du, together with his father, brother and sister escape quarantine and attempt to find her. The government’s prerogative to contain the infection, the Park family’s determination to rescue Hyun-Seo, public hysteria and the creature’s feeding frenzy form the conflict of the rest of the film.
In typical Korean cinematic tradition, The Host promotes skepticism of official action and champions the effectiveness of the extended family. In effect, the government acts as a second bad guy in the film. Their prerogative is to prevent the spread of infection and, hence, must attempt to apprehend the Park family. Washington is also a villain, as it appears to be motivating the Korean government’s paranoid response. The US Army’s dumping of chemicals into the Han River also seems to be the proximate cause of the creature mutating into being. Yet, an American is also one of the first to attempt to stop the creature, making it clear that Joon Ho Bong (director) wishes to confine any anti-American commentary to US officials only. (Of note, anti-Americanism was rife in South Korea during filming.)
Warning: The film is not very scary, or that creepy. If there is such a thing as a family monster movie (which also has a fair bit of death), this is the one. There is also a fair amount of cheesy humor, intensified by poor translations. Some scenes may appear to be overacted, but their awkwardness, or what Americans may interpret as an attempt at parody, is due to the culture gap. Korean culture does not downplay emotion and over-the-top expressions of feelings are not uncommon.
Overall, the monster effects are second to none and a sufficient amount of gruesome death scenes make up for the lack of gore.
P.S. I highly recommend watching the subtitled version.