The Host (Goi-mool)
Song Kang-ho (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Memories of Murder)
Byeon Hee-bong (“My Girl”, Crying Fist),
Park Hae-il (Rules of Dating, Memories of Murder),
Bae Doona (“Someday”, Linda, Linda, Linda),
Ko Ah-seong (“Beating Heart”, “Sad Love Story”)
Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder, Barking Dogs Never Bite)
Baek Cheol-hyeon, Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder, Barking Dogs Never Bite), Ha Joon-won, Joo-byeol
Genre: Action Horror Comedy
Runtime: 119 min.
The year 2000 an American coroner orders his underling to dump unwanted bottles of formaldehyde down the drain, assuming that the Han River, where it will ultimately end up, is big enough and wide enough to handle the poison
The year 2002 two fisherman spot a mutated fish in the river. “How many tails does it have?”
The year 2006 a business man commits suicide off a bridge into the river. Just before he leaps, he spies something dark and mysterious in the water below. When his coworkers don’t see it, he tells them “Morons to the very end. Have a nice life.”
Really, really soon Park Hee-bong runs a snack stand by the river and keeps an eye on his mentally disabled son Gang-du. Gang-du can usually be found either sleeping, stealing bites of their customers’ food, or hoarding small change to buy his daughter Hyun-seo a decent cell phone. Hyun-seo is a typical junior high student, embarrassed by her father and by her drunken, unemployed college graduate uncle Nam-il. Rounding out the family is aunt Nam-joo, an otherwise excellent professional archer who always chokes at the last second. Simply put, they’re really not doing very well, but it could be worse. The Park family is having a typical afternoon until a huge fish-like creature leaps out of the Han River and goes on a rampage. It chomps on a few people, swallows some whole, and snags Hyun-seo before diving back into its polluted home.
What was that about things could be worse?
The US military announce it has discovered that this creature is host to an unknown virus. The Korean government responds by quarantining everyone who came into contact with the beast, restricting access to the river, and sending in disinfectant trucks to spray the area night and day. Stuck in the hospital and told they are going to run tests on him, no one is more surprised than Gang-du when in the middle of the night he receives a call from his daughter. Rather than outright devouring the girl, the goi-mool (for lack of another name) has trapped her in a deep sewer where she has managed to evade it by climbing into a pipe. Unfortunately, the police and hospital staff conclude that Gang-du is delusional, possibly already suffering symptoms of the mysterious virus that the monster carries, and won’t even check his cell phone records. It’s up to the Park family to rescue their youngest. That is, if they can break out of quarantine and manage to figure out exactly where the mutant has her stashed!
Anyone familiar with director Bong Joon-ho’s previous work will know better than to expect any sudden, miraculous transformation from an incompetent, bickering family to a cohesive, heroic unit. Troubles often bring out the best in people, but not always, and sometimes ‘the best’ is not quite enough. The family has a weak foundation and under pressure, it shows. Nam-il and Nam-joo fall asleep when their father is trying to give a heartwarming speech about how they need to support and understand Gang-du. It’s funny and sad at the same time because while they are tired from worry and mourning and hunting for their niece, they’ve also no doubt heard the same words from their father dozens of times throughout their lives. It made no difference then, and a sudden, unpredicted crisis changes nothing. Though they can barely work together, they do at least share a love and devotion for Hyun-seo that motivates them to keep going.
“The Host” is a great movie on every level. Not only does it have outstanding performances by veteran actors and newbies alike, phenomenal special effects and first-rate direction, it also manages to operate simultaneously as an action-adventure film, family drama, social commentary, comedy and horror story. Predictably, most of the scares revolve around Hyun-seo’s experiences with the creature, trying to evade becoming its next meal and protecting a young homeless boy who has been trapped along with her. However, equal horror surrounds the rest of the Park family in the shape of other human beings. What humans are capable of doing to one another is more terrible than a giant mutant fish that can walk on land and swing by its tail from the beams of a bridge. There’s no warm-and-fuzzy message here. Grandpa Hee-bong admits that it is his own fault Gang-du was malnourished as a child and ended up the way he is, a continual burden to the family. The casual attitude of the American coroner brought about the conditions that created the monster, but everyone made the situation worse, from the individual citizens who reacted to it by throwing more trash into the river, to the Korean government and the WHO who sprayed chemicals into the air. Sometimes people are too short-sighted and selfish and they cause problems for others. Sometimes even tragedy. And because time runs in a straight line we cannot backtrack to fix our mistakes. The best we can to, sometimes, is to clean up our mess and move forward.
And not dump dangerous pollutants into our waterways!
Twelve thumbs up from me and the goi-mool
edited by Aziraphale