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The Host   —   Horror Movies

The Host is a South Korean monster movie that was released last year in Asia align=and in Europe. It has only just recently made it to the U.S. theaters, and I suspect as with most foreign films, its release is rather limited. I've been reading about this movie for quite some time now, on movie news sites and in Fangoria magazine, and I've been anticipating its NYC release for months. I was surprised that upon its arrival it garnered so much well-received attention (92% on RT), most likely I suspected because it was probably a very good movie, but after seeing it last week I realized that is has faired so well not only because it's such a good movie, but because it is such a surprising movie. Here's a movie that does not follow your standard movie guidelines. It breaks all kinds of Hollywood rules and succeeds because of it. If you don't believe me just ask Korea. In Korea The Host has been seen in the theater over 13 million times making it the highest grossing South Korean film of all time. Here's a review.

The movie opens on a US Military commander ordering his Korean assistant to pour hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde down the drain which, we are told, empties into Seoul's Han River. The assistant is reluctant but the commander is pumped full of that militant authority and cannot be reasoned with so, the assistant carries out his orders. Years pass and we now open to a small snack bar owned by an elderly gentleman, Hee-bong, and his slow witted middle-aged son Park Gang-du. The snack bar sits near the Han River and caters to the public that lounge on the river-side park. A young school girl soon arrives at the snack bar, her name is Hyun-seo, and we learn that she is the daughter of Gang-du.

Not long into the movie does the action then begin. As Hyun-seo is watching television inside the snack bar, Gang-du delivers an order of food to a group of people sitting near the river side. As he approaches he sees a small crowd gathered near the water, they are all staring and pointing at a large queerly shaped object hanging off of a nearby bridge. The shape suddenly moves and drops into the river and quickly swims over to the crowd. People then begin throwing food and cans at it as it swims nearby. This all seems a little pointless to me but I guess there needed to be some kind of instigation rather than the creature just wanted to eat people. Which leads us to our next plot point in the movie. The creature crawls out of the river and begins to eat people. This is a rather remarkable scene and probably my favorite of the movie. The creature, about the size of a semi truck, just starts running through this park trampling on people and sending the crowd into hysterics. This scene is one that I had in mind when I'd mentioned earlier that this movie breaks all kinds of rules. First off unlike most monster movies The Host shows you the creature within the first 30 minutes of the film. And we're not talking a teaser shot either, this is a full head to tail top to bottom watch the fucking monster run around in absolute daylight for 15 minutes kind of shot. Blew me away. That right there was worth the $11 movie ticket (can you believe the price of a movie ticket these days? It's more unbelievable than a mutant creature coming out of the river to eat people). Amidst all of the chaos Gang-du is running around and trying not to get stepped on or eaten. After some attempts at trying to help a few people he finally comes upon the snack bar and snags his daughter by her hand and then they're both on the run. Somewhere in all of the stumbling and falling down and dodging Hyun-seo gets snagged up by the creature's tail and both she and the creature disappear into the river.

Presumed dead the family, which now includes Gang-du's brother Nam-il, and sister Nam-joo, and their father, all mourn Hyun-seo at a large indoor facility where the hundreds of people who were all witnesses to and affected by the recent events, have been ushered to by local authorities. This scene of mourning is simultaneously both very moving, and quite funny. Portraying a rather solemn scene with conflicting dual emotions is something The Host puts into play quite a few times over the course of the film, another surprising quality and one which makes the movie such a success. While the community is mourning all of its dead some government officials arrive and ask that anyone who had been touched by the creature, and anyone who then had contact with someone who had touched the creature, please identify themselves as they are at risk for a possible virus which they believe the creature to be the host. After Gang-du raises his hand men in bio-hazard suits take him and his family away to containment. Later that night Gang-du receives a static call on his cell phone from Hyun-seo where she tells him she's trapped in the sewers and cannot escape. Then starts the adventure of Gang-du and his family on their mission to rescue Hyun-seo from an unknown location before she's harmed by a mutant river monster. Along the way the family is not only battling and escaping from the creature, but also the government, as the family is believed to be infected by a virus and are therefore pursued relentlessly after their initial escape.

The movie then breaks into following the various characters on their individual journeys toward their shared single goal. This creates a movie that has no one particular star, but allows the viewer to see each character as equally important to the other, as they all work together, not against each other, you end up rooting for the mission and not only for the individual. Personally I also developed a sympathy toward the creature as well. The movie showcases the creature in such a way that we see the creature's strange habits and skills, and by seeing these things it develops a kind of personality. By seeing in the beginning of the movie how the creature was created, it made it hard for me to blame the monster for its violent ways. It was simply reacting in the way its nature demanded. By the end of the movie I was rooting for them all. I'd never been in a position like that before, where I wanted them all to live and the only "monster" that I really saw was the government itself. I have a feeling I may be a minority in that opinion though so don't go in expecting the creature to woo you with flowers and chocolates. It's not the case. I'm no doubt seeing a little too far into the movie because even Adam looked at me as though I was crazy. But, he does that a lot, so one can't be too sure.

The Host also takes the opportunity to make some political statements as well. Much like George Romero and his use of zombie movies as a vessel to comment on political and social issues, the director Bong Joon-ho touches on the environmental impact of human actions, chemical warfare, the rapid and wide-spread scare and threat of illness, and containment. I know it seems like I've divulged a lot about this movie, and maybe I've said too much, it's a difficult balance when trying to review a movie. One wishes to explain the plot without giving too much of it away, share their opinion without shaping your opinion, and to also point out any undertones of the movie, with still trying to allow room for more messages to be found. I believe I did that here, which is why I can still urge you to see this movie. It's a monster movie, a drama, a comedy, all rolled into one. But most of all, it's one hell of a good time.

Posted 4.9.2007 1:16:17 PM

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