The Host (2006)Director: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Byeon Hie-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Du-na, Ko Ah-sung, Jay Kim Spencer, Scott Wilson, Paul Lazar, David Joseph Anselmo
Tagline: A satirical monster movie classic
In an opening that is based on a real event that occurred in the year 2000, hundreds of litres of Formaldehyde is dumped down the mortuary drain that leads to the Han river in Seoul. Years pass and two fisherman notice a very strange tadpole, but it escapes before they can take it away to be looked at.
2006 and everyone is enjoying a quiet day down by the river. Kang-du (Song Kang-ho) is asleep at the counter of his father Hie-bong (Byeon Hie-bong) food stand and Kang-du's daughter, Hyun-seo (Ko Ah-sung), is getting ready to watch her aunty, Nam-ju (Bae Du-na) compete in the national archery championship on TV. When Kang-du eats one of the legs off someone's squid, his dad makes him take them another one and so he ends up on the river bank with everyone else watching some strange creature splash into the water and swim towards them, which is were the movie really takes off.
Not knowing about all the commotion going on outside, Hyun-seo steps outside and is grabbed by Kang-du to try and run with her to safety, but he trips and the monster carries her off. Later at the memorial service for the victims of the monster we meet Hyun-seo's uncle, Nam-il (Park Hae-il) and he fights with Kang-du in front of the press. The military soon turns up and puts all the families into quarantine as they say the monster is the host to a new deadly virus. Later that night in hospital, Kang-du receives a call from his daughter, but none of the authorities believe him so he escapes from the hospital with the rest of his family to deal with the monster themselves.
What makes this movie different from most other monster films is the political subtext and the way that it focuses on just the one family affected by the monster rather than the big picture. In this film the media, scientists and military are portrayed as being misleading, ill-informed and incompetent. They seem more intent on asserting their control than actually going out to find the monster.
It is left up to the one family to try and find their daughter when no one believes them. They engage the monster on their own terms despite everything being against them. In particular I liked the scene where the monster attacks their food stall where they have been hiding as they keep attacking it and chase after it despite not being very well prepared.
As well as the whole story being a political allegory, there are other historical references throughout the film such as people having to 'borrow' food to survive, student protests of the 1980s (the could of 'Agent Yellow' may as well be tear gas) and the ongoing conflict with North Korea. The moral of the story seems to be that Kim Jong-il seems like a big scary monster, but it would be best that South Korea is left to deal with him as they have four times and the population and twice the army and they can take him out given the chance.
The monster effects were great all round. I haven't heard of the company The Orphanage, but I am sure they are going to go onto big things after this film. The monster itself even has references to previous Korean monster movies, although more Yonggary than Pulgasari. It also has a lot of character, such as when it is drinking the petrol being poured on it and how it tricks Hyun-seo into thinking it is asleep during an escape attempt.
I really liked the cast especially Song Kang-ho as he is so funny in a lot of scenes. It would have been difficult to shoot some scenes as he would have had the crew cracking up laughing if the production was the same as I have seen behind the scenes of Memories of Murder. Byeon Hie-bong is also great as the grandfather and has worked with the director before. Although Ko Ah-sung's character is stuck in a hole most of the film, I thought she plays her role very well and it is a great debut. Bae Du-na and Park Hae-il fill out the support roles very well which would be hard with Song Kang-ho stealing all their scenes.
Above all, this is an excellent action movie and up there with the best of the big budget Hollywood productions. It is not as overblown as those though and although a remake is planned, I don't think it would work as the story is so rooted in South Korea. There are some American actors in this movie however which is sure to give it a wider audience.
This site is definitely not affilated with the Melbourne International Film Festival (DUH!) or the Melbourne Underground Film Festival.