The Host. What can I say? I’ve looked through dozens of reviews and I’ve concluded that it’s an extremist film. Which is to say that you either love it or you hate it and there is little to no room for the in-betweeners.
Since I’m on the side that loved it, which greatly outnumbers those who didn’t, and I’m also writing this particular review, my opinion is the only one that counts. Much like when I made up the word ‘in-betweeners’, no one’s going to call me on it, so make yourselves comfortable. You’re in my world now.
Released in the U.S in 2007 The Host seems like the Asian apology for Godzilla. Not to say that Godzilla wasn’t a classic. But whenever I hear the name, the film I picture in my head is in black and white with a clay monster smashing down a hand built miniature set of Tokyo. Toy planes attached with strings flying around its head, and of course, the Hallmark screams of “Gaika! Gaika! It’s Gozira!”
Like most people spout off the Ghostbusters tagline like they’re spewing vomit, I’m an oldie goldie who will point and scream out “Gaika! Gaika! Gozira, Gozira!” in a reasonably well-done Asian accent whenever the mood strikes me. Whether there happens to be a 300 foot tall lizard hybrid waltzing around doesn’t really matter. What does matter is keeping the legend fresh in everyone’s minds. Let’s all take a few moments and do so now.
…Alrighty, where were we?
Reminiscent of its predecessor, The Host, or Gwoemul (which, originally enough, simply means monster.) is centered around the havoc one mutated sea creature can wreck in a relatively short period of time. The movie starts off with two military pathologists dumping over 100 bottles of formaldehyde down the drain and into the Han River. Actually the American, the guy in charge, orders his hapless Korean assistant to pollute the well known waterway.
A few years later we visit the bank of the Han River where Gang-du, played by Song Kang-ho , and his father Hee-bong, Byeon Hee-bong, run a snack bar for the tourists and natives who socialize there. He’s watching his sister Nam-joo, played by Bae Doona who’s a medalist archer on television with his daughter Hyun-seo, Ko Ah-seong, when his father calls him away to go and serve some customers.
When he goes over with the order, he notices a small crowd forming at the riverbank. He joins them and together they watch as a strange, dark lump unfurls itself and dives into the river. Personally this would have been around the point where I got the hell out of dodge but these people stay. They not only stay, they throw beer, peanuts, and other assorted snackety goodies into the water to feed it. It’s not surprising that five seconds later, in a rage that it has no opposable thumbs and therefore can’t open any of the potato chip bags, the thing jumps out of the water and goes on a rampage.
In the spirit of the term rampage, he causes havoc and destruction and induces all around piss-in-your-pants terror. At one point Gang-du and an American soldier named Donald try to help some people the monster has trapped inside of a trailer. When they escape the thing goes after a fat kid instead, he was running slow and looking like prey I guess. During the battle to try and save the kids life Donald get his arm stepped on by the monster and Gang-du, who attacked it, is splattered with its blood.
It’s during the running and screaming that follows this incident that Gang-du sees his daughter come out of the snack shop where she and her grandfather have finished watching the archery competition. He grabs her hand, runs some more, stumbles and then grabs her again and keeps running. Only when he looks back it’s only to find that he’s picked up the wrong girl. Horrified he watches as the monster blazes past Hyun-seo and snatches her before diving back into the river.
The rest of the film is dedicated to the family’s desperate search for her. Gang-du, Nam-joo, Hee-bong, and Gang-du’s younger, alcoholic, former activist, and funny as hell brother Nam-il (Park Hae-il), are dubbed the infected family. It comes out that the monster is not only a menace, but the host of a new virus that’s deadly to any who come into contact with him. By getting the blood on his face Gang-du is the poster child for the virus, along with his family by association, and after they all break out of the hospital to go in search for Hyun-seo, it becomes the Government’s top priority to get them back.
This family gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘dysfunctional’. Gang-du, the eldest is more than a little slow, the sister’s flaky, the brother has a tendency to doll out drunken drop-kicks at funerals to any and all that have angered him, while the father claims to be able to tell the condition of his kids based on the smell and power of their farts. The group doesn’t exactly inspire confidence and for a good bit of the movie there seems to be little, to no chance of Hyun-seo making it out of the monster’s clutches alive.
That is, before we take into account that Hyun-seo is a little 13-year-old badass and she has four odd, but loving, adults who are determined to let nothing stand in their way of getting her back.
As the highest grossing Korean film of all time there was a lot of expectations for this movie to live up to. I was all ready to be disappointed and I’m not sure if it’s my favorite Korean film of all time, but I find myself pleasantly surprised to move it up my list of monster movies to number one. It has a lot of little elements in it that can appeal to different people, whether it’s the graphics and blood, the comedic relief of the family, which was frighteningly true to life, or the dedication they had for one another.
After watching the movie I came away with something else, a new love for the actress that played Hyun-seo. Ko Ah-seong won the Best New Actress award for her performance and I agree with the verdict. The kid was great. Nothing like those weepy, whiny, please-don’t-eat-my-head-off-gaika-gaika! (note my undying love for that phrase) little girls either. I was getting thoroughly sick of them, both in American movies and Asian ones and it was nice to finally find one with not only a little spunk, but some smarts to go with it.
My only complaint is the ending. Ticked me off five ways to Sunday. You’re rooting for these characters if you haven’t already dropped it after the first five minutes so to see them die…ugh. Somehow it made what they were fighting for all this time seems a little pointless. I could understand the heartbreak value but honestly after it was over I had to go back to my happily-ever-after Disney movies and hug them to my chest with a silent thank you for always assuaging the hopeless romantic in me. If I’d known from the beginning that the freaking movie was going to be a tragedy, I never would have watched it, awesomeness or no.
All in all most will find it a pretty decent way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I’m not going to go around screaming Gaika! Gaika! It’s Gwoemul!” or anything (not the same ring to it) but I will definitely sign any future petitions against aquatic polluting. It’s shameful that I’m doing it not to save our planet but to make sure I don’t get my face eaten off by any toxic offspring that happen to be a byproduct. But as they say, progress is made a little at a time.
The Host was written by Baek Chul-hyun and Bong Joon-ho and directed by Bong Joon-ho.