The Host is a 2006 monster film directed by Bong Joon-Ho written by Baek Chul-Hyun and Bong Joon-Ho and stars Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona and Go Ah-sung. The film follows the attempts of a family to rescue the main character’s daughter from the clutches of a mutated monster that arises from the excessively polluted Han river.
Alright, first things first, the CGI work on the monster is not spectacular. It looks a smidge better than the sharks from Sharknado and I will hold it against this film even though I don’t need to. Barring that one little gripe, this is a fantastic monster movie.
We have always been told why Jaws is as awesome as it is. Even though Jaws is essentially a schlocky B-movie, it works as well as it does because of the masterful direction, score, and, most importantly, character work. An argument can be made that the shark is the least compelling part of the whole film. The Host uses a similar template while trying to infuse itself with a hefty amount of social commentary a la Godzilla.
The most arresting thing about the film is its direction. The shots, the colors, the camera moves, the jarringly incongruous music which acts as a background to the scene unfolding on screen and a few other things all add to the film’s overall originality. A dark sense of humor permeates throughout the film, A Clockwork Orange-Esque might I add. The film winks at the audience at a few instances acknowledging the sheer improbability of its subject matter while masking a knowing nod, within the overt wink, to our current concerns about the environment. It’s a hard trick to pull off but by God, this film is smart enough to do it.
The next big win for the film are the characters and the actors’ portrayal of those roles. Song Kang-Ho is one of the most ridiculously talented actors I’ve come across. I’m amazed that the same guy played the lead role in Thirst, Memories of Murder, Joint Security Area, Mr. Vengeance, this film and so many others. His sheer range and ability to engage me as an audience member with every single one of his films is a testament to his skill. All the supporting characters perform their tasks well and each of them serves a function in the overall narrative (refreshing) with a special mention going to the child actor who plays the lead character’s daughter. She is what you’d get if Dakota Fanning’s character from War of The Worlds was less screamy and more capable.
This film is a rollicking good time on the surface and hides many smart moments and thoughts right under that it’s popcorn movie “crust”. This film commands your attention because of how fearless it is while dealing with some of its heavier themes and works as a roadmap to most major “blockbusters” on how not to be chicken-shit when it comes to making monster movies. The exposition needn’t be front and center, the characters needn’t be stupid, and the audience needs to be respected. The film is deceptively smart and I’d like to advocate the reading folk to conjure up their own interpretaions of what the film is trying to say.