July 5, 2006
Chungmuro is in crisis. The Hollywood conquest of domestic screens this summer was launched by "Mission: Impossible 3," and followed up with four more that have kept the monopoly going. On top of that, the screen quota reserved for domestic films has been halved as of July 1. Now the industry pins its hopes on "The Host," which opens on July 27. The film has been screened to high praise at the Cannes Film Festival, increasing the expectations of Korean audiences but leaving the film with a lot to live up to.
The first private sneak preview on Tuesday did not disappoint. A mutant creature created by toxins secretly dumped into the Han River by the U.S. Forces Korea now haunts the waterways. The creature makes off with a young woman, whose rather ordinary family then engages in a mortal struggle to rescue her. In "The Host," the traditional fun of a monster flick coexists with a twisted sense of humor. Sometimes being pursued and sometimes pursuing, the protagonists’ situation is much the same as in every other creature movie. The film also borrows some tricks from the horror genre, for instance a scene where the monster’s "snack" has escaped into a small space leaving it snarling at the entrance. The special effects used to depict the comings and goings of the monster are an astounding technical accomplishment that proves what Chungmuro can do.
If that was all, the film would have just demonstrated that Koreans can do a good imitation of Hollywood films. But director Bong Jun-ho is adroit at showing audiences the foundations of the genre while at the same time playing with its conventions, taking the movie to a whole new level.
In one scene, an operative who has just revealed that certain people have been taken into quarantine because of infection with a virus is asked by the families of the missing for an explanation. He responds that since time is short, they should turn to the TV news for an explanation. But when he turns on the TV, it doesn’t work — a neat spoof of the Hollywood convention of explaining such crises with a news flash. The director’s unique brand of humor pervades film. The monster scurries along scarily until it trips; the heroic protagonist goes in for the kill but clumsily drops his weapon.
Compared to Bong’s previous work "Memories Of Murder," a perfect blend of subject matter, story line and style, the way “The Host” gets its message across is a little rough. The real tragedy here is not the singular incident but the disaster born out of an impotent and corrupt system, and the film’s ability to show us this is its strength. As the title suggests, it is an immoral society ripe for giving birth to a monster. In dealing with the rage of those in a society that cannot ensure the safety of its people, the new film can in fact be seen as an extension of "Memories Of Murder." When all is said and done, the protagonist turns off a newscast that is trying to make sense of the incident with his foot and continues eating. In the end, hope comes from the resilience of those who just carry on living their lives.