The Host Review

by Ed Lau on August 2, 2007

The Host

After arriving to a packed theater on Sunday for The Simpsons Movie, my friends and I decided to rent something and watch Homer be stupid on Monday rather than sit in the front row and strain our necks. There are just some things I can’t stand in this world and paying 11 bucks to see a movie at a horrible angle and develop a weird click in my neck is one of them.

The video store had few options, really. I saw Zodiac a little while ago and thought it was long winded and horribly boring (that’s my review of that movie right there) and even though I had high hopes for The Number 23, I was disappointed in the style of the film and didn’t really like it either. The one DVD I haven’t seen that caught my eye was The Host, which is a monster film from Korea. It’s not just any monster film – it’s the highest grossing movie of all time in South Korea, which really surprised me as I really think Korean cinema is for the most part underrated in the rest of the world. The Western world may be more interested in action films from Hong Kong or the horror genre of Japan but Korea really makes some touching, introspective films with some absolutely spectacular performances.

The Host begins in a mortuary where an older pathologist tells his assistant to dump over a hundred bottles of aging formaldehyde down the drain despite the environmental concerns of disposing gallons of toxic liquid into the Han river. This results in a very large creature that looks like a mutant tadpole that devastates a nearby park full of people after onlookers gather to see it hanging from a bridge above the river.

The Host

The main characters are a small, working class family. Park Gang-du runs a snack bar in the park with his father, Hee-bong. Gang-du is a relatively lazy and dim-witted buffoon but you can’t help but like him when you see how much he loves his daughter, Hyun-seo, saving up an instant ramen bowl full of nickels and dimes to buy her a new mobile phone. The other members of the family are Gang-du’s sister, Nam-joo, who is a champion archer and his brother, Nam-il, who is unemployed (and an alcoholic) despite being the only member of the family to graduate from college.

The Host

When the monster runs wild in the park where Gang-du’s snack bar is, he also abducts Hyun-seo. She’s feared dead but a scratchy, low-signal phone call to her father sends the family scrambles to save her while running from their own government, who believe they (Gang-du in particular) carry a deadly virus from coming into contact with the monster.

The Host is not a typical monster film and has several recurrent themes throughout the movie. The result is…strange, perhaps a little too strange for it’s own good. Filmmaker Bong Joon-ho sort of breaks the monster movie cliches with a very weird sense of slapstick humor, sometimes at very inappropriate moments. For example, during a funeral for the victims of the monster, Gang-du and family express their sorrow by fighting with each other, concluding in a writhing, crying, tangled-up mess on the floor. As the audience, you’re unsure whether you should be laughing or not as funerals are usually quite a serious matter. There are several other moments like this during the course of the film which really confuse the viewer. The movie is very serious one moment and comedy the next. Hee-bong pouring his heart out to his children should be a very touching moment but the fact that Nam-joo and Nam-il are inattentive (well, I can understand that chasing monsters all day is tiring) makes it inappropriately humorous. The dude in the hazmat suit that speaks to all the people that encountered the monster is especially hilarious.

The Host

The Host also aims to comment on the state of the environment in a way but it’s difficult to take that seriously when the opening scene with the formaldehyde dumping is so insanely bad. The dialogue between the pathologist and his assistant is straight out of a really bad B-movie and their delivery of the lines is worse.

The movie is also very critical of the United States government, which steps in after one of their soldiers is wounded fighting the monster. They declare that a deadly virus is spreading from the people who came in contact with the giant tadpole and that it’s spreading. They start a huge witch-hunt without any sort of evidence or proof to back up any of their statements. Sound familiar?

The CG work on the monster is very good, done by the same people that did the effects in The Day After Tomorrow. Despite the relatively modest budget of only $11 million US, the film looks polished. The monster looks fearsome, even though there are moments that suggest it can be…almost playful. The scenes where it just swings around like a gymnast are really mesmerizing.

The Host

All the actors give accurate and believable performances, especially Ko Ah-seong as Hyun-seo, who is fantastic as a frightened but strong-willed and smart little girl. Song Kang-ho is also very good as her father. He’s got some hilarious facial expressions but also displays some very real fear and sadness as his daughter is taken by a giant creature. I love how the family could have suddenly become awesome asskicking heroes with their guns and Nam-joo with her bow and arrow but instead, they remain largely inept at fighting the creature for the whole movie. It’s far more believable than most Hollywood flicks where some guy picks up a gun for the first time and is suddenly as accurate as Annie Oakley.

While all these elements might have made a fantastic movie, I feel as though they tried to do too much and break too many barriers here. All the great acting and subtler points of the movie went out the window for me when the comic relief came in at all the wrong moments. As a result, the movie has very little rise and fall in tension and remains plateaued from the mid-point til near the end. I can certainly appreciate the ambition of the movie and all the great things it actually does well but I think I would have enjoyed it more given a bit more subtlety and better execution. I mean, if anything, they should have cut more of the seriousness out and made it MORE absurd like one of my favorite movies, Shaun of the Dead which PERFECTLY blends horror with comedy. As I said, it’s rather flat…never really funny enough, never really scary enough.

However, this is certainly unlike any other monster film you’ve ever seen if you can pick it apart and appreciate all the intricacy. I know I’m in the minority when I say I’m not completely thrilled with the movie as many, many established critics have come out and said this is one of the best monster films (on par with Jaws?!) this year and perhaps ever. I’m not saying it’s horrible but I think it could certainly have been better.

Verdict: 6.5 out of 10

in Entertainment

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

betshopboy August 2, 2007 at 7:32 pm

I watched the movie a while back and felt it was not as good as it was touted to be in the ads. The story didn’t flow like the Han River would, the timing of comic moment was rather tasteless. At the end, I couldn’t decide if the movie was comic, action or sci-fi…..

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Michael Fultz August 7, 2007 at 9:49 pm

That does sound like an interesting movie! It would be good to watch something besides porn..

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Thomas @ watch free movies February 26, 2010 at 1:08 am

I was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked ‘The Host’. I saw this movie with my girlfriend and we both enjoyed this Asian horror flick. Maybe I will see it again if I have nothing else to do. I would give it rating of 8 out of 10.

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John @ watch movie December 13, 2010 at 6:19 am

I watched this movie few months back on my wide screen LED tv . I really enjoyed it, really good monster movie with good story, special effect and nice acting by all lead characters. This movie according to me probably is one of best underrated monster movie. I would rate it 8.5 out of 10.

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