TIFF Report: The Host Review

Contributor; todd
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It may still be too early to say, as other reviews have yet to roll in, but I have a feeling that Bong Joon-ho's The Host will be this year's Sha Po Lang -- at least as far as the ScreenAnarchy crew is concerned. And suffice to say, this review will be yet another singing the movie's praises. Simply put, The Host is a rock-solid genre film filled with scares and (perhaps more importantly) laughs, a decent amount of political and social commentary, solid visual effects, and last but not least, strong characters whose plight is instantly involving.

Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) is the rather dim-witted proprietor of a food stall along the banks of the picturesque Han River. He's not a bad guy, just a little slow on the uptake, and very lazy, something his father constantly berates him about. The only thing that Gang-du really cares about is his teenage daughter Hyun-seo, who really can't stand her old man. Life seems relatively normal -- until a giant mutant salamander emerges from the river and begins wreaking havoc. In the ensuing chaos, Gang-du loses track of Hyun-seo, only to see the creature snag her with its tail before plunging back into the river.

The Korean government, under pressure from the U.S. military and fearful that the monster might be the harbinger of some virus, immediately locks everything down and moves everyone who was at the river to a containment facility. Gang-du and the remainder of his family -- his father, brother (a student protester turned alcoholic salaryman), and sister (a world-class archer) -- are constantly given the runaround by the authorities, who are frankly bungling the whole case and don't really give a damn about anything except saving their own skins. All hope seems lost until Gang-du receives a faint cellphone call from Hyun-seo, who apparently survived and is trapped in a sewer somewhere along the Han.

The authorities prove to be no help whatsoever, and so the family -- a motley crew, to say the least -- decides to take matters into their own hands and rescue Hyun-seo. Meanwhile, the Americans and the WHO have decided to take over the Koreans' attempt at containment, bringing in a new super-weapon that may destroy the monster... and much, much more.

The Host is currently breaking all manner of box office records in South Korea, and it's easy to see why. It's big, loud, and has plenty of flash. The monster effects are quite good, but are not absolutely perfect -- which actually adds to the appeal of the film. There's something about the way the monster moves about on the screen, the way its various tentacles and orifices function that doesn't seem biologically feasible, but it looks really damn cool and creepy, and that's all that really matters.

The movie has several great "jump out of your seat" moments, and Bong Joon-ho (whose previous film, Memories Of Murder, also won great acclaim) is great at setting up tension and delivering the shocks. The scene where the monster emerges from the river is fantastically done. Unlike most monster movies, which keep the monster's true appearance under wraps until the final reel, The Host shows the beastie wreaking havoc early on, and in broad daylight to boot -- something that genre conventions say you never do, but it works brilliantly here, ramping up the tension right away and delivering the same old shocks in a new manner.

Of course, no decent horror/monster film should be without subtext, and The Host is no different. Of course, there are plenty of jabs at the military, specifically the American military. The movie's opening scenes depict hazardous chemicals being dumped into the river at an American military officer's behest, which references an actual event that took place in 2000. However, the Korean authorities are depicted as bumbling, inept, and insensitive, refusing to track down even the slightest of leads in order to save face.

Directly opposing that is the Gang-du's family. In the outset of the film, they can barely stand eachother and are about as dysfunctional as it gets. The only thing that they have in common is Hyun-seo, and when she's taken away from them, they begin putting aside differences and band together. The movie goes to great lengths to flesh out these characters, giving us just enough back-story for all of them that we actually care for them when they begin drawing lines and making plans to take down the beast, as well as giving all of the characters "hero" moments that allow them to shine.

It's a simple thing, really, but so many genre films neglect the human element of the story and instead choose to focus on the monsters, carnage, explosions, and other gratuitous elements, with often-deleterious results. The Host's incredibly strong focus on the family element gives the film a depth that no effects budget could ever achieve, injecting an already solid genre film with plenty of humor, heroism, pathos, tragedy, and thrills.

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More about Host, The

DarkmanPoeSeptember 4, 2006 11:17 PM


jananaSeptember 5, 2006 2:48 AM

Oh my God! I can't wait to see this film. Memories of Murder is my fav Korean film.

rekSeptember 5, 2006 11:14 PM

I'm moving to Seoul next March, am I going to have to wait until I get there to see it?! I can't go to TIFF (though I live in Toronto).

guestSeptember 6, 2006 7:41 AM

Great movie! Bong is really a talented director.

To Todd:


Did *** die in the end? Stupid question, I know, but when they had pans of this person's picture at the end I was wondering if somehow this character managed to survive.


owletSeptember 6, 2006 11:11 PM

Sorry to gloat, but The Host opens tomorrow here in Singapore, and I caught the preview today. I'm so glad I managed to watch it in a cinema -- I've had to watch too many Korean movies on DVD, and this one really needs to be seen on a big screen. It's every bit as brilliant as I'd expected -- a wildly entertaining movie that is also intelligent, insightful and genuinely moving. And casting those 4 very distinctive actors from Bong's previous 2 features as members of the same family -- well, that's just a stroke of genius.

ardvarkSeptember 7, 2006 12:12 AM

Forget the R1, I want to see the Korean R3 LE!!!

Also, I hope it's for sale longer than that special edition of Re-cycle. Gone within a week! Is that a record?

EstelaNovember 3, 2006 9:24 PM

I already watched this, and it is just awesome.
I am going to watch again and buy DVD.
You gotta watch this movie!!

Kath Madden MoxonFebruary 25, 2007 6:29 AM

I got the DVD. Some how the sleepy TampaBay area has 3 showings of this in 1 week. I caught the first. It was perfect. Great dialogue, great action. The creature, created by The Orphen company, has to be seen. Just incredible. I'll be at the next 2 showings, with a trail of movie snob friends, who are really going to dig this.

DanMarch 16, 2007 12:36 AM

Boring, boring, boring. Totally disappointed. Nothing I haven't seen done better in a dozen other films. I can not believe the good reviews this film has gotten. Take my advice and stay away!

RandallMarch 31, 2007 2:39 PM

The people who gave a glowing review of this movie must all be Korean and are biased. This movie was a waste of time for me. Today is the North American release day and I'm pretty sure that it shouldn't last for more than 1 week in the theatres here. It just needs real audiences to realize how poorly this movie was made. The director seems to be some kind of amateur because there is no continuity. One example is the main father character getting a large needle shoved into his shoulder/throat area but next camera shot there's no marks on him. At the end when the homeless guy who comes out of nowhere pours gasoline all over the alleged monster only some parts of the creature burn. I would consider this a comedy. There was some advertising saying that this is the best movie ever to come out of Korea. If that is true then I feel sorry for Korean cinema.

JaneMarch 31, 2007 3:02 PM

Was a pretty damn funny movie! but really it sucked! not as much as The Village though, but still pretty bad. Wasted my money in the theatre, the first scene where ppl laughed was when the family was all 'crying' when they first thought the girl was dead. Their 'dramatic' overly emotional display of sorrow was totally over the top to teh point where ppl started laughing!! That was the turning point where this movie became stupidly funny! I thought this was a horror... Other faults:
1. The kid was stuck in the sewer. She tried to hide in a hole inside the sewer. There was a scene where the monster tried to attack her when she was in the hole. Why couln't the creature just use it's tail to fish it out. the tail was small enough to reach her.
2. When the alcoholic uncle ran towards the monster at the end throwing fire bombs at it, these fire bombs (there were many he threw) magically appeared in his hands when he had his backpack over both shoulders. The backpack was closed. Made no sense at all.
3. where the hell did the bum at the end come from? the amount of gasoline the bum poured over the monster was like 10 litres, but yet in the scene it was endless amounts of gas being poured on the monster.
4 No continuity between scenes, lots of littles things missed.
5. the music confused the viewers on the type of movie this was. Seriously it's more a comedy.
6. agent Yellow... um it's supposed to kill all in it's path, but the family that was exposed to it...... survived???? why was it released in the mass public? for them (the government) to release the agent yellow at that time in that place, they would have to know somehow that the monster would appear at that spot exactly at that time... which is stupid of course because that was something they couldn't control. It's not like they had a plan to lure the monster there at that time, not the monster ended up there by fluke!!
7. wehre the hell was all the military.....???? (budget cuts for the film?)
8. the woman with the archery. what a joke. totally unrealistic.
9. apparently the monster was supposed to be a mutation from the formaldehyde but formaldehyde is for preserving things, it shouldn't be a mutagent (maybe carcingenic). again it doesn't make any sense.
Conclusion: waste of time! Seriously the movie made no real sense. For a korean movie they spent a lot of money for it, too bad they couldn't pay for a better script and director. this is the second worse movie I had ever seen. the first being "the village"

georgeApril 8, 2007 3:05 PM

I actually liked the quirky mix of comedy/horror/drama in this movie. Then again, I also walked into the theatre knowing that this was an atypical monster film.

What's kind of funny is that, after reading some of these comments bashing the movie, I hardly recognized the continuity errors that people have been pointing out. I thought the homeless guy at the end was comically random and that the military was inept (again, to a comic effect), but absent needle marks? Overly volumous gasoline containers? Didn't catch that.

Of course, I don't know why anyone would stew over these details. Nobody seems to question Ahnold's infinite bullet supply or the Vietcong's inability to shoot Rambo. But retrieving an item from a zipped backpack? Blasphemy! "Real" audiences deserve better. Maybe next time those Koreans will learn that if they wanna make a monster film, they better get their mutagents and carcingenics straightened out, because if there's anything audiences hate, it's an unrealistic fictional monster.

Harry-April 13, 2007 9:18 PM

Wow...Is it just me or is "george" the only person here who properly understood this film. This was not a film that strived for realism, or one that was driven by the science of the idea. Rather it worked on multiple levels. It was not only driven by the familial values of this surprisingly quirky family, but it also functioned as a social and political criticism, as we live in a time where governments can an have imposed their own ideals onto their people without first listening to what those people have to say.

To strip away the quirks and the comedy of this movie would result in something not dissimilar to another "anaconda" film. Do not focus on trivial issues such as how many litres of petrol you saw emptied but rather praise them for the seemless intigration of the computer generated monster into the environment to create something truely terrifying.

For those of you who left comments such as those mentioned by me and "george," i suggest you try watching this film again with a little less skepticism and a bit more of an open mind.