November 18, 2015

The Host

Joon Ho Bong, 2006
The Host, a movie with a very generic name, is one of several of the same title listed on IMDB. There is a short about a patient in a mental asylum. There is a 2013 full feature starring Saoirse Ronan about a mysterious force that steals people’s memories. But this Host is not any of those. This is the 2006 South Korean monster film written and directed by Joon Ho Bong (Memories of Murder, Mother, Snowpiercer). Clearly the Korean title didn't make the best transition to English. This particular monster movie ended up being the highest grossing South Korean film of all time after it was reported that 13 million tickets were sold.

The premise of the film is quite simple. A scientist is bullied into dumping massive amounts of formaldehyde down the laboratory drain, hence contaminating the city’s river-water. Not long after, the toxic chemicals create a mutated river monster that starts targeting city residents. The creature emerges from the water and descends upon a riverside park. After killing many residents it captures a food-truck worker’s daughter and disappears into the water. The man, not willing to give up on his daughter, attempts to rescue her. Of course the main dilemma of the story is the clock is ticking, and are they going to have enough time?

The film is clearly a parable for the cost of environmental destruction. But instead of just unleashing pure CGI destruction. Joon Ho Bong focuses more on the family dynamic. The family has quickly given up hope in their own government, who doesn’t take their claims seriously. They would rather just keep the family on lockdown in one of their quarantine zones. So they take matters into their own hands. It’s interesting visiting this film after already seen Joon Ho Bong’s later work in Snowpiercer. There are certainly similarities; snappy editing, impressive visual elements, clean CGI, government oppression, revolt against authority. There’s even some black comedy elements that were also seen in Snowpiercer. But The Host offers a more intimate look at a single family that is willing to put their differences aside to rescue their brother / son’s daughter. Despite the fact that this bloodthirsty creature can easily kill them, and despite the fact that the government agents are willing to do whatever they can to capture them, they focus on their one objective. Another example of a compelling us vs. the world / man vs. beast story. You care about the family, there is enough development that you really get to know them. You want them to save the daughter. She herself isn't just some crying, innocent little thing. She's resourceful, compassionate. She picks through the pockets of the poor souls who didn't survive the creature's grasp. She aids a fellow child also captured. She offers you enough of her character that you would probably join the family in their attempts to scour the city sewer in search of her.

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