Host, The (2006): South Korean Bong Joon-ho’s Visionary Film

Cannes Film Fest 2006The Host, the latest film from the visionary South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, has already garnered a substantial amount of international buzz. One of the surprise hits of the 2006 Festival de Cannes, the film later played at the Toronto and New York Film Festival and is now showing the 2006 AFI Festival. Magnolia will release the film theatrically March 9, 2007.

Utilizing state-of-the-art special effects courtesy of a creative partnership between Weta Workshops (“King Kong,” “The Lord of the Rings”) and The Orphanage (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “Sin City”), “The Host” is effective as a creature-feature horror thrill ride and a poignant human drama about a family in danger.

Watching The Host brings to mind a whole catalogue of creature movies, both mutant and otherwise, hailing back from the Japanese “Godzilla” to the American “Jaws,” the first “Alien,” and others. Bong Joon-ho is obviously a cineaste, well-versed in film history, though surprisingly his film is not self-conscious or campy as it might have been in the hands of a lesser director. Shrewdly constructed, the film blends judiciously the conventions of a scary horror flick with those of a family melodrama, in which a tight-knit clan is threatened from within and without.

Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) works at a food-stand on the banks of the Han River. Dozing on the job, he is awakened by his daughter Hyun-seo (Ko A-sung), who is angry with him for missing a teacher-parent meeting at school. As Gang-du walks out to the riverbank with a delivery, he notices a large crowd of people taking pictures and talking about something hanging from the Han River Bridge. The otherwise idyllic landscape turns suddenly to bedlam, when a terrifying creature climbs up onto the riverbank and begins to crush and eat people.

Gang-du and his daughter run for their lives, but suddenly the Creature grabs Hyun-seo and disappears back into the river. The government announces that the monstrous beast apparently is the Host of an unidentified virus. Having feared the worst, Gang-du receives a phone call from his frightened daughter. Gang-du soon makes plans to infiltrate the forbidden zone near the Han River to rescue his daughter from the clutches of the horrifying Host

The film begins at a precise moment, when a space familiar and intimate to Seoul residents, is suddenly transformed into the stage of an unthinkable disaster. The riverbanks are instantly plunged into a bloody chaos.

Up until then, Park Gang-du and his family have led ordinary lives, never really extending beyond the confines of their small food stand on the banks of the Han River. Devastated by the emergence of the Creature, they are now robbed of their peaceful daily routines. As a result, Gang-du and his family throw themselves into a life-and-death struggle against the Creature. The film shows how these exceedingly normal people, no different from their ordinary neighbors, are transformed into monster-fighting warriors.

The Creature is not the only adversary they have to fight. For Gang-du and his impoverished and powerless family members, the whole world around them is revealed to be dangerous. Thus they set out to battle to the death the indifferent, calculating and manipulative Monster known as the world.

“The Host” may be excessive in running time, but it delivers the expected thrills and frills whenever the narrative begins to sag and threatens to become too familiar. Offering the kinds of pleasures, we usually associate with midnight and B-movies, “The Host” is an extremely well-executed genre picture. It may be only a matter of time before an entrepreneurial American producer remakes this Korean gem of a movie.

End Word

“The Host,” the highest grossing Korean film of all time, earning an unprecedented $93 million at the Korean box-office, is quickly becoming a cult movie in several countries.