(Movie Review by Eric Choi) Finally, a movie that is so refreshingly entertaining that it puts most blockbusters to shame. “The Host” is the new film by director Bong Joon-Ho (“Memories of Murder”), and besides being one of the best films I’ve seen all year, it deserves all the attention it is receiving, and more. The host of the title is a mutant monster that climbs out of the Han River and begins to devour people left and right. More specifically, the film concerns the protagonist’s attempts, with the help of his family, to rescue his daughter, who has been kidnapped by the creature. During the hunt, the group becomes imperiled not just by the monster, but a government seeking to contain a deadly virus that is supposedly arising from contact with the monster.
Like Bong Joon-Ho’s previous film, “The Host” is in essence a dark comedy, and the director manages to find humor and delightful irony in even the most disturbing situations. In a scene that completely breaks the rules of the monster genre, the one person who is locked out of a shelter is miraculously spared while the monster charges headfirst into the shelter and begins attacking the people inside. These kinds of subtle touches are what make “The Host” so fresh, despite being little more than a generic monster movie on the surface.
“The Host” is also layered with rich details, and while we never sympathize with the monster itself, we are encouraged to question how its emergence affects the lives of the family, in that both are eventually treated as monsters by government forces. We see this in the family’s attempts to rescue the daughter, which is mostly thwarted not by the creature itself, but by their fellow humans. In a hilarious scene, the family’s attempts to trace a phone call in order to locate the daughter leads to a run-in with a gang that is after the reward posted on the family by the government.
Unlike some Korean films, “The Host” can be readily acceptable to both Koreans and Americans. Not only is everything happening in our backyard, but the film also ridicules American foreign policy in South Korea by showing a very possible scenario in regards to the monster’s origins. However, Americans may catch something that most Korean viewers will miss, in that the film can be seen as an allegory for the War in Iraq . We learn later on in the film that the virus that supposedly came out of contact with the monster was a lie created by the government under false pretenses. Having lied to the people, the government can no longer turn back.
I can’t do this review justice without mentioning how incredible the CGI looks, especially since this is a movie that would have come crashing down had the monster looked fake and unthreatening. There is really only one moment in the entire film that I had doubts about the reality of the creature, which comes toward the end when the monster is burning. Otherwise, SFX company The Orphanage has done a wonderful job.
The performances by the cast are excellent, with Song Kang-Ho, Park Hae-Il, and Byeon Hie-Bong all returning from “Memories of Murder.” However, I do wish more had been done with Bae Du-Na’s character; as well, Park Hae-Il’s character doesn’t have much characterization beyond the fact that he’s out of work despite being a college graduate. Also good are Song Kang-Ho and Byeon Hie-Bong, who plays the abducted daughter. The script doesn’t give their characters a whole lot of depth, but the actors still do excellently with what they are given.
“The Host” easily exceeded my high expectations, and lives up to the hype by presenting a refreshing and exciting scenario filled with priceless dark comedy and poetic images. The final shot is quiet, and yet so deeply poetic and beautiful at the same time; it is the perfect ending for a relentlessly thrilling movie. Bong Joon-Ho never fails to make great movies (both “Barking Dogs Never Bite” and “Memories of Murder” are two of my favorite Korean movies), and “The Host” is no exception.
Joon-ho Bong (director) / Chul-hyun Baek, Joon-ho Bong, Won-jun Ha (screenplay)
CAST: Kang-ho Song …. Park Kang-du
Hie-bong Byeon …. Park Hie-bong
Hae-il Park …. Park Nam-il
Du-na Bae …. Park Nam-ju
Ah-sung Ko …. Park Hyun-seo