STARRING: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hie-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doo-na, Ah-sung Ko

2007, 119 Minutes, Directed by:
Bong Joon-ho

In this hugely entertaining South Korean monster movie a huge amphibian monster the size of an elephant simply emerges from the Han river in Seoul one day and goes on a grand CG rampage. After trampling underfoot and devouring several bystanders in a nearby park, the monster simply disappears back into the river; but not before it kidnaps a young Korean school girl
to store her away as her as a snack for later in an underground sewer she can’t escape from.

Her distraught family consisting of her grandfather, somewhat thick father and uncle and aunt believes her to be dead. That is, until she manages to phone them using a cell phone that belonged to one of the monster’s other victims. Problem is that the authorities has decided for some reason that the monster is a carrier of a deadly disease (since Asia has been the scene of several outbreaks of diseases such as Avian flu and Sars, they probably decided it was par for the course) and whoever came into contact with the beast must be quarantined and examined no exceptions!

However, the family soon manage to flee the clutches of the incompetent authorities and find themselves searching the underground sewers armed to the teeth for the little girl. Did we mention that the girl’s aunt is an Olympics archer? So three guesses as to the means of the creature’s demise then . . .

The Host takes a very tired premise that of a small group of individuals battling a monster in a confined space (see: Alien) and does something completely unexpected and entertaining with it. The first fifteen or so minutes of The Host is a pure visceral thrill ride even though the movie completely ignores the Jaws dictum of keeping the monster hidden and leaving it to our imagination by simply parading the surprisingly agile beastie around in clear daylight in all its CG rendered glory. This opening scene is an attention grabber that is at once both exciting and darkly humorous to watch. Creature feature lovers will realize that this is the reason why they love movies in the first place . . .

"One simply dreads the inevitable Hollywood remake . . ."

The rest of the movie may come as a bit of anticlimax in comparison, but there are still plenty of excitement and surprises to be had. By contravening several movie conventions right at the start with kicking off the movie with the sort of climactic scene that usually serves as the finale, The Host then continually shifts focus and attention around from one character to another. This leaves the audience unsure as to who exactly the hero (or heroine) will be who will make it to the end. It also makes one wonder whether gasp! this non-Hollywood movie will actually break the great unwritten Hollywood rule that no real harm shall befall children and dogs. Will our ragtag group of heroes actually manage in saving the young Korean girl?

The tone of The Host is often uneven, ranging from Black tongue-in-the-cheek humor to sincere emotionalism but it somehow all gels together. Also interesting is how the movie is informed by its Korean setting: one laugh-out loud slapstick scene pokes fun at the various health scares to which Asia has been subjected to in recent years. A distrust of both the South Korean government and foreign powers informs the film’s sensibilities, and this glimpse into South Korea is fascinating for non-Koreans to watch. (When last did you learn anything about a country’s socio-political concerns by watching a monster flick?)

While the pace may sag towards the end (running at almost two hours, perhaps the film could have been shortened by ten minutes or so) and some dodgy CG in the film’s climax, The Host remains an unpredictable and character-rich experience. Along with the recent The Descent it shows that while Hollywood may rehash the same old tired genre conventions and clichés with each new horror movie to come out of America, it shows that there is a lot of life left yet in the genre.

One simply dreads the inevitable Hollywood remake of The Host which will no doubt suck the life out of whatever made the film so unique to begin with . . .


Sci-Fi Movie Page Pick: Hugely entertaining South Korean creature feature that not only has some fun with genre expectations but is unexpectedly emotionally involving as well as being one thrill ride . . .



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