The Host Review

Poster Art Country : South Korea
Year: 2006
Genre: Monster/Horror
Format: Cinema
Running Time: 119 minutes
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures (USA)

A mutant emerges from Seoul's Han River and focuses its attention on attacking and eating people. Awesome eh?

Directed by Joon-ho Bong. Written by Chul-hyun Baek and Joon-ho Bong.

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

I love a good monster movie. From King Kong to It Came from Beneath the Sea, to obscure classic like Gorgo and Q: The Winged Serpent, there is nothing on the big screen quite like seeing a huge beast causing havoc. Heck, I even loved when the Godzilla movies got stupid (which was about the second film), there was still a huge creature tearing up a city, what more can you ask for? When it comes to the Monster movie genre, I know what to expect, I’ve got the rule book down. Then along comes The Host, which stomps on the rule book, eats it whole then regurgitates it's predictable spine into something totally new and unexpected. But coming from the man who gave us 2003’s, 'Memories of Murder', I should have seen it coming.

The Story opens in 2002. In the mortuary of a military base an American Army officer orders the dumping of large amounts of Radioactive Formaldehyde into the Han river, claiming the river is broad enough to ‘Disperse’ the chemicals. Fast forward four years, we arrive at the river side home of the Park family, Single Dad Kang-Du who is trying to run a food stand with his father and raise his daughter, despite having borderline narcolepsy and being a bit of a klutz. The river side community is disturbed by a large shape hanging under a nearby bridge; curiosity suddenly turns to blind panic as this shape turns out to be a 30ft salamander/dinosaur, which proceeds to cause absolute destruction and death before making a hasty retreat back into the river. When the government descends on the area and announces the beast may have been ‘Hosting’ an infectious virus, the area is closed off and those who have come into contact with the creature are detained. With the authorities unhelpful the Park family, now joined by an alcoholic uncle and Olympic level 'archer-auntie', embark on a quest to rescue a loved one who is trapped in the creature’s lair.

So far so familiar you may think, but there is more at work here thanks to some awesome direction from Bong. Take for example the creatures opening attack, which uses ever so subtle camera angles to draw you away from what is about to happen, the almost silent opening of the attack is a great example, the film catches you off guard and throws you straight into the action. There is no slow reveal, this beast attacks fast and hard for a glorious 15-mins of carnage. The creature itself is a wonderful CGI creation, a slender almost gracefully clumsy amphibian that comes across as a real animal, bounding through crowds sending people flying left, right and centre and really impacting on it's world. So often CGI creatures never carry a sense of weight in a film, this is not the case here, and credit must go to Special Effects wizards WETA for a great acheivement.

More importantly, it is the director’s insistence in mixing genres that gives the film it's unique feeling. Moments of grief are followed by moments of almost slapstick style comedy, which really adds to the characters. This subversion of the genre would not work if the actors were not up to scratch; thankfully performances are excellent across the board. You really care for this family, who are constantly under threat from the monster, scientists and even the government. It is these underdogs who prove the real heroes of the story, making any deaths all the more shocking when they occur, and trust me deaths occur, in very moving ways.

If one criticism can be made of the film, it is the political subtext of American intervention, which will not be to everyone’s taste (Although the dumping of chemicals into the river which serves the films opening is an event which did happen as portrayed). But this is outweighed by much loftier themes of environmental pollution and disaster that will strike a chord with all viewers. These post attack scenes of scattered news reports and grieving families have echoes of 9/11, the Asian tsunami and hurricane Katrina, whilst images of people walking around with face masks to avoid the virus brings stark reminders of the SAARS and bird flu panics. It is here the film strikes the biggest chord, fear of what is happening is often replaced by fear of not getting enough information or not being able to help. The film's messages are a stark warning, on a world constantly on the brink of catastrophe, when a disaster does happen it is not the government we can trust, but ordinary people willing to do extraordinary things, and family is what matters most of all.

South Korean cinema is unbelievably creative at the minute and this adds to a growing list of films which are a little bit different from the usual Hollywood affair. Although not to everyone taste, I highly recommend this film. To a monster movie fan like me, its absolute heaven.


Review by Chris Black, for Pitofhorror.com

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