The Host: Monster in the light

31 Oct

The Host (2006)

Is it just me but why is it most modern monster movies are kinda crap? I don’t get it. Take ‘Pacific Rim’ for example, it was made by an uber geek director who knows his stuff. Dude probably knows a lot of cool obscure monster movies from around the world than most human beings on the planet but why did the movie feel just like a tad better version of ‘The Transformers’? I wanted to like it more than it should because everybody was saying it was the best robots vs. monsters movies they’ve ever seen but after watching it…I felt like “Really? That was it?”

Yeah I get it, it was meant to be a homage, a kind of geek love fest to why we love otaku, anime, monsters, blah blah blah. With a budget of 190 million dollars you’d think some originality might be in order instead of ripping off an episode of ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’? I’m not ranting against the movie or anything but compare that to ‘The Host’ now that’s a fraking awesome superior monster movie that makes you go “Fuck yeah!” It’s how a monster movie should be; Twisted, a bit fucked up, original, gets you engaged with the story/characters and also gives you a great thrill/scare.

‘The Host’ is a South Korean film directed by Bong Joon –ho (‘Memories of murder’) that brilliantly works on multiple levels and defies genre convention. On one level it’s a story about a monster who goes amok and kills people (your basic classic monster story) but on another level it’s a social critique/satire about how useless/paranoid the government is when dealing with an unknown catastrophe and on another level it’s a story about a screwed up family (ala ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’) who tries to rescue the youngest member of the family.

Rarely have I seen a monster movie that seamlessly goes back and forth between the three levels and still manages to be funny, touching, unpredictable, shocking, clever and doesn’t treat its audience like a 5 yr old. Most monster movies go for the big spectacle/killing/gore/action and leaving barely any room for proper characters let alone intimate unique character developments. That is why most monster movies go for the jugular kill of aesthetic thrill but leaving a trail of cliché characters/stories because it’s safe and it’s expected of them.

Not ‘The Host’ though.

When a loopy U.S army doctor orders his local subordinates to pour shitloads expired bottles of formaldehyde down a drain that leads to the Han river in Korea (based on actual event) it causes an extreme genetic mutation and creates an amphibious monster. Time passes and suddenly the monster appears by the bank of the river where people normally hang out and relax. When the monster indiscriminately attack and eats the people around the park, the government orders a shut down/quarantine of the area. Caught in the middle is the Park family, Hi-Bong (Hie-bong Byeon) is the owner of a caravan snack shop right by the river front. While his sons are borderline useless;  Gang-du (Kang-ho Song) a lazy sloth and Nam-il (Hae-il Park) a drunk, his daughter Nam-joo (Du-na Bae) is a champion archer suffering from chronic self doubt. The apple of the family is Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko), Gang-du’s daughter who gets taken by the monster and goes missing.

The dysfunctional family decides to quit hating each other and rescue Hyun-seo but they have to fight their way through political red tape backed by South Korean government/U.S disinformation campaign who calls it an outbreak of “asian flu” and spreading official lies. Even worse, the government’s insistence that people who were in the vicinity were infected with a deadly disease and forced to be held against their will and forcing the family to fight against the government. This brimming sentiment makes a somewhat personal/popular statement among South Korean people where since 1950 (the start of Korean war), South Korea’s existence will always be dependent/overshadowed by U.S involvement in the region to keep them safe and stable at the cost of independence and self-ruling.  Fortunately, the movie never gets bogged down with the country’s political ramification because at the heart of it, it’s still a monster movie. It knows when to pull back and when to push, balancing it up with the family’s personal quest to save the little girl.

‘The Host’ also breaks conventional rules of the monster genre such as: never showing the monster too soon, never show all the details, keep the monster hidden in the dark and CGI monster works best in night scene. It boldly shows the monster (be it CGI) in all it’s glorious daylight and the effect is more menacing because unexpectedly it creates such havocs in the middle of a beautiful day. ‘The Host’ really set the bar high on what monster movie could become in modern day, a razor sharp social/political satire, a fusion of art-house spirit and blockbuster pacing, a wicked sense of humor, a bunch of fucked up flawed characters trying to be bigger than they really are by taking on a personal crusade; falling apart and getting stronger in the process and a monster that really scares the shit out of you. Who needs giant robots?

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