The Host (2006) (Korean title: Gwoemul)
Directed by: Joon-ho Bong
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Hie-bong Byeon, Hae-il Park, Doona Bae, Ah-sung Ko, Jae-eung Lee, Dong-ho Lee, Je-mun Yun, David Anselmo, Paul Lazar, Scott Wilson
(out of 4)
Never chew with your mouth open, Mr. Monster. It’s just not polite.
A well done monster flick, The Host delivers to the audience much more than skillfully delivered mayhem. The best B-movies usually do, of course. The first thing that came to mind as I was watching this latest exercise in South Korean horror was the original Japanese Gojira, which was really a parable about the effects of nuclear war, just dressed up in the guise of a giant lizard. The Host, I think, pulls a similar trick, but it’s not about fallout of the radioactive kind. Instead, it’s political fallout – the effects of American influence for the past 50 years.
But that’s just part of it. The Host is, as Norman Singleton suggests, a libertarian film, anti-state through and through. As the movie begins, a scientist with the U.S. military (Scott Wilson), annoyed with the dust buildup on formaldehyde jars, orders his Korean assistant to dump them down the drain. When his assistant protests about toxic chemicals being dumped into the Han river, the Wilson character responds “The Han River is very broad, Mr. Kim. Let’s try to be broad-minded about this.” So the chemicals end up in the river, and years later, a gigantic beast emerges to chow down on unsuspecting South Koreans. Not everyone is digested right away – some are deposited into a sewer miles away, presumably for food storage. One of these people happens to be spunky Park Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko) who has to try to survive long enough to be rescued by her dysfunctional family.
Oh Porterhouse! Look at the dust build up on this formaldehyde!
Unfortunately, the authorities prove to be a bigger threat to the family than the monster itself. Nobody listens to Hyun-seo’s father Gang-Du (Kang-ho Song) when he suggests that she may still be alive. Instead, they assume he is mentally unstable and quarantine him. To make matters worse, everyone believes the monster is passing around some kind of virus, and the entire Park family is deemed infected. As insult to injury, the occasional TV bulletin is more concerned with the life of a wounded US marine (David Anselmo) than anything else, keeping everyone updated on his condition, while the great number of dead Koreans are glossed over. The US military decides to step in to defeat the unknown virus with something new called “Agent Yellow” while the authorities attempt to apprehend the escaped family.
The events that transpire in the movie could almost be deemed absurd. At no time does anyone in the government or police attempt to apprehend or destroy the creature. All of the attention is focused on finding escaped prisoners and defeating a disease that may not exist. I should point out that this is not a “horror” movie in the same sense that Godzilla, The Relic, or Mimic is. It’s actually much more of a drama about a family in a crisis. There’s a good deal of humor and the movie takes its time getting to know the characters, which is always a good thing if you are going to place them in life-or-death situations.
Can you hear me now?
Despite a slow middle section (monster flicks probably shouldn’t be so lengthy), the movie works because of its mostly-successful balance of family drama, timely commentary on current events, and monster mayhem (obvious CGI but I didn’t mind it). It definitely criticizes U.S. foreign policy, which reminded me a little bit of the Japanese film Junk, which did something similar. Whether or not you agree with the criticism, you can certainly see the creeping resentment of American presence in Asian affairs.
What truly makes the film stand out as non-western horror is the anti-Hollywood ending, which doesn’t cop out like say, a Spielberg film usually does (War of the Worlds, I’m looking at you). I have always found Korean cinema to treat its subject matter with a bit more care. The Host didn’t disappoint me.
- Bill Gordon
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Beautiful form, nice entry. I give it an 8.