The Host



Release date: July 27, 2006

Director: Joon-ho Bong

Cast: Kang-ho Song, Hie-bong Byeon, Hae-il Park, Doona Bae and Ah-sung Ko

A lot of the times when I've seen a Korean film in the past, I've pondered whether there was something in the water that's responsible for so many strange films coming from the region. Thank the stars for director Bong Joon-ho's mercy in exposing the truth about how the pouring of outdated formaldehyde down the drains has indeed created bizarre evolutionary mutations within the waters of the Han River. While Japan has Godzilla, Gamara, Rodan and literally hundreds of monsters plaguing its shores, the creature terrorizing Korea in Bong Joon-ho's inventive film is extremely weird, but The Host is far from your typical Saturday creature flick, being more about the characters and their situation than the actual creature itself.

After a few short scenes to set-up the creature's existence, we meet Gang-du, an annoying narcoleptic who works at his family's store, his only time at getting anything right was providing the necessary chromosomes to create his daughter Hyun-seo. Gang-du is serving tourists right next to the Han River when the monster first surfaces, and a little curiosity turns to fear and panic as the creature starts attacking people. After Gang-du tries to valiantly fight the monster off, it drags his daughter into the river, and Gang-du is reunited with his family to mourn their loss. Meanwhile, a nationwide panic is created when a person who has been in contact with the creature dies from a mysterious virus, and the entire family is put under quarantine. Except that Gang-du has is convinced that Hyun-seo is still alive somewhere, and they plot their escape to try and find her. Director Bong Joon-ho thankfully parts from the typical monster movie cliches by mixes things up a little, offering genuine scares and terror one moment with jokes and laughs the next. As you're mourning with the Park family after the daughters "death", a guy in a weird suit walks into the area, slips and falls, creating such an unexpected laugh that it creates the necessary break for the next surprise twist (this is one of the things that make this movie so great). The whole movie continues to deliver this type of odd, unexpected, and extremely funny humor, though some of the biggest laughs are offered at the expense of the movie authorities, whose incompetence at dealing with the situation keeps things alive. Even the US doesn't help matters; it's after all an American who says to dump the toxic chemicals into the river, and it's the U.S. authorities who step in and declare the existence of the deadly virus without any proof. (A hilarious cameo by Paul Lazar puts it all into perspective.)

One of the main reasons this film works so well is the perfect casting of the Park family, especially Song Kang-ho, who is even funnier and more entertaining than he was as a detective in Bong's "Memories of Murder." Once again, he's playing the type of imperfect hero you can't help but love and maybe even relate too, and the same goes for his family, including Nam-joo with her archery skills and the crazy uncle Nam-il. They make you feel a lot of emotions as they become wanted criminals and take on impossible odds to try to retrieve Hyun-seo.

While at first, the monster may look kind of weird and dorky, like a cross between a catfish and a puppy dog, any thoughts of it being "cute" will quickly dissapear once it bares its teeth and starts to attack. It's really a magnificent piece of CGI work, made in such a great way that the creature has as much real weight and depth compared to any of the movie monsters in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings." It might actually be a pleasent suprise how such an odd looking creature can be made in such a realistic and life-like way that makes it far more scary than any stop motion monsters could ever be, but thats what makes the terror so effective, especially in the scenes where the daughter is trying to escape from the monster's lair in the sewers. Byeong Woo-Lee's impeccable score adds a lot to increase the tension in the film.

While "The Host" looks as good or better than most Hollywood blockbusters, it wisely avoids most of the predictable clichés and plot twists that often ruin the best of them. Since Bong's monster movie is set in the real world where attacking giant monsters has its repercussions, one quickly realizes it's not wise to get too attached to anyone. While some of those decisions might not be so popular, they create a more believable story, even if it's just because the cute kid in it is too busy trying to keep from being eaten by the monster to name it and treat it like a pet--the common practice in Japanese monster movies. Things like that should quickly dispel any easy comparisons, as "The Host" sets the new bar for future movies in the genre. The Host looks better than most Hollywood blockbusters, it wisely and thankfully avoids most of the predictable clichés and same boring plot twists that end up ruining other movies. Since Bong's creature feature is set in the real world where attacking giant monsters has its repercussions, we realize very quickly that it's not wise to get too attached to anyone. While some of those decisions might not be so popular, they end up creating a more realistic and believable story, even if it's just because the kid in it is too busy trying to keep from being eaten by the monster to name it and even treat it like a pet (which is the common practice in Japanese monster movies.) Things like that should quickly dispel any easy comparisons, as The Host is unique in a lot of ways and sets a new bar for creature movies.

The Host proves director Bong Joon-ho to be another groundbreaking Korean director who knows how to make an extremely entertaining movie filled with excitement and tension, making The Host one of those unforgettable movie experiences that's so rare. As hard as it is to rate horror movies such as these, being the only dysfunctional family monster movie from Korea or elsewhere, its brilliance and originality of filmmaking makes it evidently clear how much genius is at work behind every single frame.

This is definetely a must see for horror fans as you will enjoy its originality, humor, and of course all of the juicy blood and violence, after all it wouldn't be able to score a 92% approval rating on rotten tomatoes (at the time of this typing) if it wasn't a good film.





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