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THE HOST (R) (2006)

Magnolia Pictures

Official Site

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Producer: Choi Yong-bae

Written by: Bong Joon-ho, Ha Won-jun, Baek Chul-hyun

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

Rating:


The new Korean monster movie The Host instantly endeared itself to me by artfully avoiding one of the major pitfalls of modern-day monster movies—that is the overly elaborate pseudo-scientific explanation for the creature. (For a textbook example of how not to handle such a plot point, check out The Relic, which spent nearly an hour on the tedious and completely implausible details of the monster’s origins.) The Host handles this aspect as simply and elegantly as one could hope for: An American doctor dumps formaldehyde into a river, and voila, instant monster. Although it turns out what I initially took as a cheeky homage to the golden age of creature features actually has a different meaning for the audience in South Korea (where the film has been a record-breaking smash). It’s actually a reference to a very real incident where an American army doctor disposed of formaldehyde in the Han River.

From time immemorial, or at very least the ’60s, monster movies have been interpreted as symbolic of universal or contemporary societal fears. Japanese monster movies are really about nuclear weapons, World War II zombie movies are really about fear of disease, werewolf movies about unwanted body hair and so on… I once even read an entirely serious article about how the movie Aliens was really about American fears of illegal aliens. So is the monster in The Host (which looks sort of like a giant catfish with legs) really a symbol for American arrogance? Is the whole film really an allegory of the Korean-American relationship in the 20th century? I don’t know. You’d have to ask a Korean film critic, but my guess is probably not. What I can tell you is that The Host is a terrifically fun movie.

Stealing a page from movies like Tremors and Shaun Of The Dead, filmmaker Bong Joon-ho recognizes that extraordinary events don’t necessarily call for extraordinary characters. In fact the family at the center of The Host is actually a bit pathetic. Our protagonist Gang Du (Song Gang-ho) operates a snack stand on the edge of the Han River with his elderly father. He’s a well-meaning simpleton, prone to drowsy spells and snack attacks, but he’s also a doting dad to a precocious little girl. When the mutant river monster rears its ugly head and snatches up his daughter, he is thrust into the unlikely role of hero, with mixed results. These early scenes of havoc and mayhem are well choreographed for a film that was made on a fraction of most American movie’s budgets. Soon the whole city is in a panic and some shady officials are trying to quarantine the family. After receiving a cell phone call from his daughter, Gang Du enlists his dysfunctional family for a desperate rescue attempt.

The Host liberally mixes suspense and tragedy with comedy in a way that mainstream audiences in the United States generally don’t appreciate, but the film seems destined to become a cult classic for those who can appreciate its keenly observed comedy and well-crafted action.

—Edward Rholes

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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