Reviewbr> "You mean there's no virus? Right? There's no virus!" - Park Gang-Du
The movie opens with some American Dude telling his Korean offsider to dump a whole lot of chemicals down the sink, and incidentally into the Han River. Now thereís a beaut idea if ever I have heard of one. Naturally this canít be good as The Host is a horror flick, and we quickly learn there are mutations as a result of chemical dumping from a couple of blokes fishing in the river.
Gang-Du Park and his dad run a food store next to the river, and to be honest right from the kick off you get the impression Gang isnít the full quid. But he respects his Dad, and loves his daughter from a marriage that ended up on the garbage tip probably right around the time the two fisherman were noting teenage mutant ninja turtles or something in the Han. The Park family day is ruined by Gangís sister not heading into the gold medal final in archery, and oh also by a giant mutant tadpole thing. And how was your morning? The monster takes Gangís daughter just to put the icing on this mutant sundae of delight.
Numerous beastie inclined deaths later the Parks are in quarantine and things are getting worse with a suspected virus from the mutant tadpole having everyone on edge. When Gang gets a phone call from his daughter, everyone has a mobile phone people, the Parks are quick to go into battle against their own countrymen, the U.S military, and a giant mutant tadpole. I just canít get enough of saying ďgiant mutant tadpoleĒ to be honest. Can the Parks rescue Gangís daughter from a fate worse than death, or will it all go down in slapstick farce? A surprisingly deep movie ensues. Ready to dabble your toes in the Han?
The Host would be very easy to write off as just another monster movie whatís coming up next. But where Joon-ho Bong and team get it right is by mix and matching a whole lot of genres into a recipe for entertainment. You have the horror elements, you have the drama elements, you have the action, and yes you have a heap of comedy albeit of the slap stick nature. Rounding out a smorgasboard of delight is some hard hitting political statements about U.S forces on the Korean peninsula, and their total disregard for the locals. With APEC currently in fill swing over here in Sydney I know just what Joon-ho Bung is taking the carving knife to. This movie could have been made as a satire on John Howardís humping of President Bushís leg, in one of the more dispiriting shows of Aussie kowtowing to U.S imperialism. The filthy mongrel has to go, vote for the other mob come the Federal election. Oops slightly off the reservation review wise, letís get back to The Host here.
It may take most audience members a couple of viewings to get how rich the title and the subplots in The Host are. Of course that might just be my requirement as Iím not exactly NASA rocket scientist material. The title is a multi-layered pun that only becomes apparent as the end credits roll. What exactly is the host? Is it the giant mutant tadpole, Korea itself, or the Park family? Iím going to take a stab in the dark here and state Director Joon-ho Bong was having a bet each way. Thereís something fishy in the state of Seoul, and thatís not just a giant mutant tadpole. Actually from here on in Iíll just use GMT for giant mutant tadpole to save on writing. Get that grin off your face right here right now, this doesnít mean the review is going to end up any shorter. Director Bong is clearly dirty on the whole U.S forces thing, and doesnít mind pointing this out in concise fashion. After any number of Koreans meet their demise, due to the GMT, the only casualty reported by the Korean media is some yank that lost his arm ďheroicallyĒ fighting the big slimy one. The virus itself we discover was a beat up job by the Seppos to cover up chemicals being dumped in the Han River. I get the feeling Bong, hey thereís a pun there, doesnít particularly like having the U.S army as neighbors. In fact I would go so far as stating the Director likes U.S military forces a tad less than drinking bong water. Yes I know that was absolutely terrible, but what the hey someone had to make the obvious joke.
This movie won me over with it's multi layered approach, and of course due to having a giant mutant tadpole front and center
Besides all the political stuff thereís a fair smattering of comedy. I wasnít actually that impressed to be truthful with this aspect of the movie, as slap stick went out with Leslie Nielsonís schlock a couple of decades ago in my opinion. Guess Bong (water Ö teeehehe) decided The Host would go down real well with the French, fired up on Jerry Lewis re-runs as they are. The only other explanation is that we are dealing with a movie about a GMT, how serious can you really be end of day.
One of the aspects of The Host that did work for me was Bongís (wa Ö oh never mind) ability to mix in the drama elements. The Park family members are as dysfunctional as a certain family from Springfield but pull together in the face of GMT induced shenanigans. One of the lasting images Iíll take from this movie is Gangís daughter Hyun-seo facing up to the GMT, something about that dirt covered face simply resonants. On my list of horror iconic moments, and a tribute to both the Actor and the Director.
Behind the camera Director Bong, not going to say it, is on fire. The Seoul locations are used to their utmost, some brilliant tracking sequences, and overhead shots that will have you baying at the moon. Bong sure knows how to put a movie together, and adds the artistic lashings by the truckload. The Host is quite frankly awesome visually. Really wish I had of caught this bad boy on the big screen, damn you Hoyts for not showing it down my local multiplex.
Okay thereís a couple of trite moments, Gang climbing out of a sewer quick cut to sister emerging in another location, but otherwise nothing to moan about. Bong adds the poignant moments to round things out yo.
Creature comfort wise Bong isnít afraid to let it rip with the GMT taking center stage throughout the movie. In a few places the CGI is noticeable, but overall pretty decent work by the geeks in the back room. I got the notion at stages the GMT changed size to fit the script but was a happy camper end of day. Good use of props to keep things humming along in the close ups. Big respect to the Director for taking a risk and allowing the audience to see if they can spot the zipper or not.
Kang-ho Song (Gang-Du) was pretty impressive here. He plays the sort of everyman character thrown into an impossible situation, and makes it a winner with a sort of wide eyed innocent take on things as his character learns a GMT is only the start of his worries. Song really nailed the relationship between Gang and his daughter, the dude deserves some gong or other for his performance in The Host. Ko Ah-sung (Hyun-seo) nailed everything thrown her way and had me rooting for her from the word go. Well after the bratty mobile phone thing at least. In fact letís cut to the chase here, the whole Park tribe delivered like banshees during a wild night down the Cross. Wtf does that mean?
T&A is pretty much not happening period. The GMT is buck nekkid throughout though and it has a long tail. Probably someone in South Australia is boning up over that concept, but they donít have much else to do down banjo land.
Byung-woo Lee, any relation to Bruce, turned in a violin inclined score that somehow matches the visuals. It really shouldnít work, all dramatic movements and such, but somehow Director Bong had me nodding my head in approval. Think classical and you will be on the money.
The Host has got to be the best monster movie Iíve seen in the last few years. All the elements add up to a rollicking good ride, and I was onboard Director Bongís hell bound hayride from whoa to go. The dude dragged me in, got me behind his characters, and delivered the sort of mayhem we expect from a good old fashion monster flick. Freaking sign me up to the fan club, and send tickets my way to his next movie. Added bonus was a giant mutant tadpole now how cool is that!
The movie blockbustered in itís native South Korea and to date is the highest ever-grossing movie at the local cinema. Released Downunder in 2007 by Madman, The Host grossed 362k from a limited cinema run, while in North America it managed a tad over $2.2 million. All up $87 million WorldWide. For the purpose of this review I slapped down some of the hard earns on the Region 4 twin Disc release by easterneye.com. Will be checking out the extras sometime over the weekend.
Okay The Host isnít the movie for everyone. If you enjoy monster movies then dig in with both hands, Director Bong delivers on the hype, if big mutant things arenít your thing then this one might still be worth having a look at for the drama elements. An above average movie that matches all the publicity it received earlier in the year, finally something decent in 2007 from the horror genre. Giant mutant tadpoles, hell yeah, go catch one today!