Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Kang-ho Song……….Park Gang-Du
Hie-bong Byeon……….Park Hie-bong
Hae-il Park……….Park Nam-il
Du-na Bae……….Park Nam-Joo
Ah-sung Ko……….Park Hyun-seo
Being the highest grossing film in Korean history, Gwoemul (The Host) is making waves all around the world. And that hype is very much deserved. The Host is the kind of creature feature we used to see a long time ago, the ones that on the surface told a straight forward story with three parts, but underneath held a much deeper message. What we get here is perhaps the best monster movie since the 50’s in terms of it having something to say, along with something to show.
The movie is based slightly as a “what if” from an event that happened in 2000 in Seoul, Korea. Where a US military civilian employee by the name of Mr. McFarland ordered the disposal of formaldehyde into the sewer system leading to Han River, despite knowing the potential ramifications for his actions. The film even uses this as its starting point in a flashback type form, recreating the scene and then transporting us to modern day Seoul.
We meet Gang-Du, a shiftless layabout who’s main occupation is serving squid and beers to people in the park from his fathers snack shop located on the bank of the Han River. When he gets caught snacking on customers food, he’s forced to bring over some complimentary beers to try and make things okay. When he arrives at their spot near the river, the onlookers see a creature hanging from a bridge that soon plops right in to the water and everyone is left in wonderment of the strange looking creature. But it doesn’t take long for them to get an up close and personal look at the beast, as from the moment it entered the water it was heading right in their direction. Soon the bus sized tadpole with legs, and a face very reminiscent of the worm from Tremors, rampages through the park along side the river leaving a path of destruction behind it.
It hurls people tens of feet in the air with its tail, swallows others whole, and once full begins picking up random people and carries them off to its hideaway as a late night snack. Of those kidnapped is Hyun-seo, Gang-Du’s daughter. You see, during the noisy outcry Gang-Du tries desperately to get his daughter to safety but when he trips and losses her hand for just a few seconds, he loses her in the crowd. And before he knows it she’s carried away by the monster to the other side of the river.
We’re then shown all of he grieving families coming together to mourn their loses. This is where we meet Hyun-seo’s aunt and uncle; Nam-Joo, a bronze medal archer and Nam-il, a college graduate who’s the realist in the group and who also holds Gang-Du personally responsible for what happened to Hyun-seo. They’re all then placed in a medical facility where the government is holding them in fear of a potential virus that might have been spread by the aquatic beast. when Gang-Du receives a call late at night from his previously perceived dead daughter and the only information he’s able to make out of the static filled phone call is that she’s somewhere in the sewer system. But more importantly, they know that she’s alive. He and his family soon find themselves on a mission to retrieve their little girl, no matter the cost.
The best thing about The Host is that the movie doesn’t take the first hour and use it to build the characters, instead throws us right in to the fray of things and then spends the entire film slowly peeling away the layers of the family members. Many movies nowadays stretch out the their opening for no reason, forcing the audience to slump back in their seats, take in all the exposition on why we should care, and wait for things to get moving. Instead, the movie goes by the old Hollywood standard of getting knee deep in to the plot before the audience even knows what hit them.
It’s take on how an epidemic affects a society and what can happen when we allow fear to dictate our behavior is at times chilling how realistic it plays out. While a thinly veiled reference to things like SARS and bird flu, it shows just how we as a society are capable of blowing things out of proportion rather quickly. And how news networks and government officials use fear to force people in to bringing out the worst in themselves. Putting them in a completely falsified frenzy.
The monster doesn’t hide or remain in the shadows until the third half, its out in broad daylight within the films opening moments. Which both sets the movie apart from others but also shows one of the films few weak points. The visual effects are at times jaw dropping, the first twenty minutes alone will have you on the edge of your seat. Actually, the whole movie will leave you in that position, but that first half hour or so is what will put you there for the remainder of the films runtime. But by the time the closing scenes come up, be it rushed production or a depleted budget, the effects don’t quite work and hurt what should be the big climax of the story.
The only other part that really hinders the film are the occasional over the top acting moments by the lead actors. But that is more of a cultural difference than anything else, the same way you need to view Asian films with a slightly different mind set. Still, there are a few section of the movie where the director is trying too hard to implement humor in to the film and it shows. For instance, during Hyun-soe’s and all the other citizens who were killed during the opening attack there is a very out of place scene where all four family members are flopping around on the floor like fish in a boat. Very out of place and completely take away from what should be a somber moment. It’s scenes like this that don’t quite fit in to the film that Joon-ho Bong was making.
Since it won’t be showing in many places this week, and is playing opposite quite possible the biggest release so far this year in 300, consider this a solid recommendation to seek out The Host as soon as it starts playing around your area. This is the type of movie that both the American remake of Godzilla and 2005’s War of the Worlds should have been. If you found yourself disappointed with those, give this one a chance.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):