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The Host

Korean monster movie

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A Refreshing Monster Spectacle That Sidesteps Hollywood Conventions

  • Jun 19, 2009

The top-grossing film in Korea for 2006 was inspired by Hollywood and Japanese monster films. It is a tricky thing; there is just too much temptation for disaster, and too many things to go wrong. Critics have compared "THE HOST" to "Jaws" which I think has little to no merit; this film is a different animal. South Korea's shot at making a monster film was successful all over Asia that a sequel is in the works. Director Bong Jang-Ho (Memories of Murder) blends spectacle, familial emotions and even throws in a bit of satire. "The Host" does something unexpected, by sidestepping the usual "monster on a rampage-bent on destruction" premise, it does something unexpected, and it focuses on its characters. (which is why it may have been compared to "Jaws")

The movie establishes itself as we see Hee-Bong (Byun Hee-Bong), the owner of a food stand by the Han River serving beer and grilled squid to his customers who want to hang out in the sun. His son, Kang-Du (Song Kang-Ho, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) is a somewhat slow mentally, but not exactly handicapped--Gang-Du is motivated and inspired by his daughter, Hyun-Seo (Ko Ah-Sung). When a large creature emerges from the Han River, trashing cars, killing and devouring people, Kang-Du plays the opportune hero--but in doing so, his daughter gets grabbed by the creature. It leaves her father a shocked wreck of a human being. Rounding up the rest of the family, Nam-Il is an unemployed worker and amateur archer Nam-Ju (Bae Doo-Na) are about to mourn their loss; when the Korean government grabs every person who may have been exposed to the creature to keep them in quarantine. The authorities fear that the monster may be infected by a virus and they give Kang-Du special attention since he actually had a little blood of the creature on him. The family had all but given up hope, that is until Kang-Du receives a cell phone call from Hyun-Seo and now the family busts out of quarantine to rescue Kang-Du's daughter…

"The Host" avoids most of the usual clichés seen in most monster films. There is no flag-waving or display of Korea's military power to take out the creature. Director Bong Jang-Ho does however, pitches in a few political references and some barbs about the media. It also does some finger-pointing as the film's opening act is based on a true event when an American coroner dispenses orders to a Korean employee in 2000 to dump excess amounts of formaldehyde into the Han River which caused the creature's mutation. Americans also get relentlessly grilled.  When the family becomes aligned for the common cause of finding the child, aligning themselves against this biological threat also serves as a reflection of the times--as they spend more effort in fighting off military personnel, they are chased by health professionals and other branches of the government.

The film does express the idea that the government may not be there to help you, and all that you have is each other--as our troubled family gets more grief and problems getting to their goal from authority figures than from the monster itself. It is a sad state of mind to be sure, and definitely serves up an emotional loneliness and alienation--part of it comes from your country will not help you and the other part is that your own countrymen can turn against you. That one such disaster can reveal the conventions of government, that its beliefs and structure may be less civilized underneath its surface. The center of "The Host" also goes into a family's loss of a child--which such tragedy is definitely brought to full circle with a single line in the film; "Have you smelled it?" Byun Hee-Bong's iconic line expresses the sadness that can rot your stomach. The film's familial themes are powerful as their loss leads them against capricious forces.

Amid the film's emotional barbs about the government, the media, student culture, the recent SARS epidemic and even the United States, "The Host" manages to find a sense of humor. The film's satirical nods are darkly funny; the expectations of suffering are turned into a comical farce when the family bursts into overdone histrionics under the presumption that Hyun-Seo is dead. The cast is excellent, and their characterizations work well together. The family is flawed, they bicker and argue, they fight and barely get along but somehow they find the strength to see things through. It is one admirable trait, and while they're not the most sympathetic bunch, they are very human, this quality makes them admirable.

The creature's designs are somewhat slug-like--ugly, slimy and clever. The CGI-generated monster is quite good, and it does look very UGLY. The monster itself may need some development, and I feel that at times the monster doesn‘t get its due. It does display intelligence, as it mars Hyun-Seo's attempts to escape while protecting another young boy (Lee Dong-Ho) from its clutches. It is not a horror film following usual conventions. True, the usual rules apply: kids and dogs don't die, old folks and shady folks die. There's some cliché to it, but the screenplay manages to subvert many others as it exposes mortal danger at every turn. The film does have a great man vs. monster match-up but on this "The Host" falters a little bit. There are few clashes with the creature, and what little there was, didn't match the raw mayhem brought about in its first appearance. The monster isn't your frenzied, destructive monster--it reacts to a recognizable emotion. It is hungry and it does what it does because it needs to feed. I assume that our creature somehow went stealth-like after its first attack because it got hurt, but there are several missed opportunities that the monster should have been more (ahem) developed.

After all is said and done, "The Host" manages to sidestep Hollywood conventions that it avoided a super-happy ending and your stereotypical loud explosions that seems to be the tread in monster films; we get some satire regarding biological agents and dumb law enforcement. Bong Jang-Ho's film is impressive and as good a monster film can be. It's paced exceptionally well, and the bits of humor do help it along; there is a very effective sense of human drama about it that it feels like a melancholy. "The Host" carried a lot of substance and does it so with style.

I am in for "The Host 2"!

Highly Recommended! [4 Stars]


Dvd U.S. version Poster Hyun Seo the archer encounter scene

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December 05, 2010
My girl picked this up for me when it first came out, love her.
December 06, 2010
you'd better hold on to her. Rare to find a woman who shares our tastes.
June 19, 2009
Great treatment Woop. I loved almost everything about this film because it was the absolute antithesis of every monster movie we've ever seen. No big government or military action saving the populace from the monster--instead they only serve to get in the way when they bother to act at all, and its up to the family to save not only itself but the nation. Could that EVER fly in this country, even if the flick were made by a combination of the NRA and the Rush Limbaugh Fan Club? I think the entire concept of the film reflects the Korean philosophy just as 20 MILLIONS MILES TO EARTH and IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA reflected American values and philosophy.
June 19, 2009
I agree! The fact that Asian countries usually don't trust their government is inherent in this film. I just loved its ambition, that instead of settling for your usual monster treatment, it attempted to try something different. That is one good catch about the country's philosophy. I also loved "Tremors" and "Tremors 2", in odd some way I think they would be better compared to this film than "Jaws". This was waayy better than "Cloverfield" even though that Hollywood may have a bigger audience. try to see "Memories of Murder" via netflix, it's Bong's first acclaimed film. I'll catch you later, my queen....time to eat lunch.
June 19, 2009
I can't remember which sequel it was, but I did like one of the TREMORS sequels. I think it might have been the one with the flying, farting off-spring because it was so silly. The original TREMORS was of course a classic monster movie and does deserve to be compared to JAWS now that you mention it. It was very claustrophobic even though it took plae in the wide open spaces , but so did JAWS. CLOVERFIELD had its good points but it certainly can't compare to TREMORS.
June 20, 2009
That would be Tremors 3, it had the flying creatures that was farting gas to propel itself. You're right it was so silly but highly entertaining. Tremors was simple, but it sure was awesome because of the script and the monster was developed nicely.
June 20, 2009
And the actors were first rate, all of them.
More The Host reviews
review by . July 19, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
What Pompted You to write a Review?   I felt compelled to review this movie using real words rather than just a numbered rating scale because I was shocked to see the high ratings!  My husband and I rented this last year solely because I was intrigued by the image on the movie cover (the one shown here).  Needless to say, the average American movie viewer will NOT enjoy this movie, and I'm still repairing my movie-choosing reputation!     How was the Plot, …
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
My favorite monster flick - a toxic spill in Seoul's Han river creates an enormous creature who terrorizes the city and a father who fights back to save his daughter - scary, funny and completely relevant.
Quick Tip by . June 06, 2010
THE HOST - Although a bit long, this monster flick is exciting, entertaining, and surprisingly funny and sweet.
review by . October 31, 2008
The Host
I'm sure there are many fans of the Asian film art that will disagree with me, but this film made little sense. It skipped from here to there with little connection between scenes. It was hard to follow and dubbed poorly. The only positive note to it was that the monster was done with some very decent FX, looking like a carp with legs or some kind of mudskipper gone wrong.     The film starts with the dumping of some very old formaldehyde down the drain and into the river. …
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About this movie


Alternate Name "Gwoemul"
Starring Kang-ho Song, Hie-bong Byeon, Hae-il Park, Du-na Bae
Directed by Joon-ho Bong

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The Host
Theatrical poster Hangul 괴물 Hanja 怪物 RR Goemul MR Koemul Directed by Bong Joon-ho Produced by Choi Yong-Bae Written by Baek Chul-hyun
Bong Joon-ho Starring Song Kang-ho
Byeon Hee-bong
Park Hae-il
Bae Doona
Ko Ah-seong Music by Lee Byung-woo Cinematography Kim Hyung-ku Editing by Kim Sun-min Distributed by Showbox Release date(s) South Korea:
July 27, 2006
United Kingdom:
November 10, 2006
United States:
March 9, 2007 Running time 119 min. Country South Korea Language Korean
English Budget $11,000,000 Gross revenue $89,106,383 (worldwide)

The Host (괴물, Gwoemul - "Monster") is a 2006 South Korean monster film, which also contains elements of comedy and drama films. The film was directed by Bong Joon-ho, who also co-wrote the screenplay, along with Baek Chul-hyun.

Starring in the film as members of an unremarkable family thrust into the middle of extraordinary events were Song Kang-ho, Byeon Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona and Ko Ah-seong. A rare combination of blockbuster plot and political commentary, the film also deals with the implications of America's military presence in Korea.

Following the success of the director's previous work, Memories of Murder, The Host was heavily anticipated and hyped. It was released on a record number of screens in its home country ...

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Genre: Drama, Action, Comedy, Horror, Adventure
Release Date: March 9, 2007
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 1hr 59min
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