TRASH CINEMA RECOMMENDED MOVIE
The Host is a funny movie. And I don’t mean ha-ha funny. It’s been compared to Jaws, and to some degree, the comparison is apt. Both movies are very rich: they work as character pieces, there’s a political backstory, and then there’s the pure adventure and horror aspect as well. Other than that, they could not be more different.
In Jaws, the threat was personalized to a certain extent. There was a scene were Brody’s family was threatened, but for the most part, it was Brody, Quint and Hooper squaring off against the shark.
In The Host, sweet little tyke Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko) is abducted by the monster, a tadpole like creature that lives in the nearby Han River.
Hyun-seo’s family are a bunch of misfits. Her father Gang-Du (Kang-ho Song) is possibly brain damaged. He is liable to drop off to sleep at odd moments while working at a food stall, like “a sick rooster,” as grandpa Hie-bong (the invaluable character actor Hie-bong Byeon) observes. Uncle Nam-il (Hae-il Park) was a bomb-throwing agitator at University and is now unemployed. Auntie Nam-Joo (Du-na Bae) is the most accomplished. As the film opens, she seems on the verge of winning a national archery competition, but hesitates at the last moment, running out the clock and having to make due with a bronze medal.
The tragedy of Hyun-seo pulls the family together and they set out to rescue her from the monster. You can’t get much more personal than that.
Then there’s the political. In Jaws, the mayor of Amityville didn’t want to make a big deal out the initial shark attack because it would scare away the tourist trade and ruin the big 4th of July weekend. In effect, the mayor set out a banquet for the great white shark and rang the dinner bell.
In The Host, politics is even more of a big deal. The monster is created by the United States Army dumping toxic chemicals into the Han river, a clear swipe at the United States’ habit of treating other countries like their personal toilet. One of the first victims of the monster initially loses an arm, but then appears to develop and eventually succumb to a virus. Scientists hypothesize that the monster is carrying the virus, hence the title of the movie. Although by the end, you might come to the conclusion that the host is Korea, and that the virus is heartlessness.
Normally, if a little girl was in imminent danger, you would expect the entire country would be up in arms, clamoring for her rescue and safe return to her family. This is where The Host gets kind of shocking. The authorities are only concerned for their own skins. Not only do they not try to rescue Hyun-seo, they do everything they can to hinder the family because they consider them potentially infected by the virus.
So, the major obstacle for the family is not the monster itself, which is certainly dangerous, but rather the uncaring government bureaucracy.
The tone of The Host is quite complex. The monster itself is rather clumsy on land, prone to taking pratfalls and knocking things over. The victim’s family is comic in it’s dysfunction. The tension involving the scenes of the little girl in the lair of the monster is almost unbearable. There is palpable paranoia involving everyone other than the family — everyone has an agenda and nobody gives a crap about the little girl or her family.
Jaws may have had it’s terrible moments, but in the end, the world was set to rights and the monster was vanquished.
I won’t tell you if the monster is vanquished in The Host or not, but I will say that the heartlessness of the society itself remains unruffled, so whether the monster dies or not doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference. It seems like society itself will continue to be monstrous, swallowing it’s victims and spitting out the bones after extracting every last ounce of nourishment.
In the end, Gang-Du emerges from his mental fog and becomes a functioning adult, but at a terrible cost.
What I’m trying to say is that The Host is quite a good movie. The special effects, while not quite up to Hollywood standards, are perfectly adequate, which is high praise for an Asian monster movie. The lensing, direction, acting, and musical score are up to the generally high Korean standards. The Host is suspenseful and exciting, it will make you chuckle uneasily, and it will probably unnerve you, but just don’t expect to whistle a merry tune after the credits roll.
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