I have always loved Asian films, especially Japanese Samurai films and Chinese gangster films. Lately though I have been enjoying a wide range of Korean movies. the Host is currently available on instant Netflix.
The Host aka Gwoemul (2006) – Rated R
“In Seoul’s River Han, a giant mutant creature has developed as a result of toxic chemical dumping. When the squidlike monster scoops up the teenage granddaughter of humble snack-bar owner Hie-bong (Hie-bong Byeon), he races to track down the murderous beast. With no help from the authorities, who are convinced the girl is already dead, Hie-bong and his family will have to band together to save her — and possibly the entire city.”
“This is alcohol!” – “You’re in middle school now.”
The Host opens with an American ordering a South Korean to dump Formaldehyde down a drain. Eagle-eyes will notice that the masked American is character actor Scott Wilson (currently Hershel on The Walking Dead). This dumping was based on a real incident of the U.S. dumping chemicals into the Han River. To offset this negative portrayal of Americans, the next one we meet is actually quite heroic.
The special effects really sell the story. The creature was designed by Chin Wei-Chen. WETA (The Lord of the Rings) handled the modeling and the abundant CGI was handled by The Orphanage (Iron Man, Sin City). I really like that not only was the creature different but they also made it a different size. It is significantly larger than man-size but much smaller than a building (the two most common sizes for creatures). Another thing that really works is that the creature is seen early and often and it is a visual treat.
The initial attack sequence is a stunner, equal parts hilarious and terrifying, it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. They even stop the music and mute most of the sound at a crucial point.
Our hero is a dimwitted snack shack worker whose daughter is snatched by the creature and the other main characters are the family members. The dimwittedness gives this film kind of a slapsticky feel that is not usually found in American films, certainly not horror films. The family bond is a strong theme throughout the film. They bond together even though they are clearly dysfunctional normally.
The actors all acquit their roles well. The character of the daughter is quite clever as children often are in these films. Thankfully she is not annoying. The glimpses of Korean life and attitudes are fascinating as well. The story takes a few turns and the climax is both riveting and satisfying.
The virus subplot does go on for too long. The movie could use about fifteen minutes or so of trimming. Other than that this is a fun and different monster movie.
The Host is the highest grossing film in South Korea (as of March 2009). In an odd twist, the North Korean government officially approves of this film. It is not hard to see why as the Americans are portrayed as arrogant (the dumping is based on a real incident) and the South Korean government as bumbling idiots. The Host 2 is due to be released in Korea this summer and is supposed to be a prequel in 3D.