The Host Review
In August of this year I reviewed the US edition of The Host on HD-DVD. Now that the UK have caught up with our transatlantic friends it's now time to put the UK BluRay release through its paces. So it is with pleasure that I again watch The Host and add my thoughts for you to read here. Of course the film itself has not changed, no edit or cuts so the main review is a copy of what I published earlier in the year.
From South Korea a country with a blossoming film industry, comes a monster flick like only Asia could provide. At this point forget all the rubber suits and small model landscapes of Godzilla and open up to the possibility that some 'B' monster horror movies can actually be both fun and scary at the same time.
The Host, or Gwoemul to give it it's proper name, presents the viewer with a tight knit, but ultimately dysfunctional, family the Parks. Supporting each other both emotionally and financially, like most real families they exhibit success and failure in equal measure.
After some decaying chemicals have been illegally disposed of down the drain and into Seoul's Han River a serious mutation takes shape. A cross between a fish and a lizard supporting many eyes, limbs and teeth. It has an appetite to match its outlandish appearance. During its initial emergence from the river to feed on the multitude of sun and fun seekers at the banks of the water Park Gang-du's (Song Kang-ho) daughter, Hyun-seo (Ko Ah-sung), among others is snatched by said mutant and dragged back into the river. Obviously the Parks are distraught. Ushered by the authorities into a community hall they grieve for their lost relative with an outpouring of emotion that one rarely sees in mainstream movies these days.
The authorities try to convince that a bird-flu type virus might in some way have contaminated the Parks and all others who witnessed the beast as it rampaged through the banks of the Han. Using this propaganda the government tries to maintain the situation without creating too much panic. As if coping the apparent death of a family member is not enough to contend with the witnesses are fumigated, dragged away and ultimately held in custody. At this point Gang-du receives a faint call on his daughter's mobile from Hyun-seo herself. She's alive!!
Hyun-seo's father, grandfather, uncle and aunt all embark on their journey to find their loved one. Ultimately they care not for the fate of the mutant however you can rest assured that their paths will cross again. Will they succeed, will they face their fears in confrontation with The Host, will they fall foul of the government's own attempts to capture and restrain them or will they ultimately fall by the wayside due to their amateurish attempts at search and discovery?
What follows is a roller coaster ride of action, comedy and deep emotion. In Hollywood emotions are discussed, validated and far too often ultimately discarded. Rarely are they shown with such depth feeling, of wanting, of longing. Here, as with other Asian, European and British films, they literally jump off the screen. With The Host you wallow in the characters' sadness, you laugh with them even through their sorrow and you are encapsulated by the fear they all too often feel.
The main protagonists are all less than they could have been. Hyun-seo's Aunt, Nam-joo, is a champion archer who could have been better. Nam-il her uncle is an unemployed graduate who blames society for all his ills and takes solace in drinking. Hie-bong, the grandfather, makes a living but only just on the banks of the Han making sure the local tourists are fed and watered. He effectively supports Gang-du who seems to have nothing to offer society as a whole. Playing the part of the antihero as opposed to some bronzed square jawed American I feel endears them to the audience. The viewer can perhaps see some their own 'flaws' in some of the characters. For this reason the viewer connects with the characters in The Host. The viewer shares in their journey, their loss and their triumphs.
The direction engages the audience. Due to excellent and extensive steadicam work it seems as though you are not simply watching this film, you are actively taking a part in it. The actors play their roles suitably well, although at times they seem more than lifelike and their actions can be somewhat exaggerated. The mutant itself is CGI and it's not done to excess. It merges well into the film and it's surroundings. There is a raft of dark humour running throughout the film. At one moment you're horrified to see the destruction the mutant creates on land; slaughtering and kidnapping passers by whilst grinning at the all too often attempts at distraction that any normal person might attempt. One scene in the movie exhibits such pathos, such inevitability that I didn't know whether to laugh or break my heart.
So go on give The Host a try. It's a good enough example of what's currently available from that marketplace. Others are perhaps a little more serious but The Host reminds you of what cinema used to be like, enjoyable for all the right reasons. Once you dip your toe into Asian cinema there is no turning back.
Some trivia to end on... The start of the film shows an American mortician ordering a subordinate to get rid of large quantities of formaldehyde down the drain, into the sewer and out into the broad Han River. This actually happened in Seoul in February 2000. An American mortician, Albert McFarland, directed one of his staff to pour embalming fluid down the drain. Ultimately this solution ended up not only in the Han River but also the resident's water supply. Also whilst the large majority of the actors in the movie are Korean some are Americans and as such the dialogue alternates at times between Korean and English.
Addendum: When I watched The Host I thoroughly enjoyed the viewing pleasure it gave me first time around. Since that time I have watched it once more and obviously again now with this region free UK release. It seems that no matter how often I view it's still an enjoyable experience even though you know where the shocks and laughs emerge. Still highly recommended.