Bong Joon-ho’s 2006 monster tale, The Host, brings a level of sophistication to the monster movie genre with a combination of several genres all working to develop the narrative and its characters. The story follows a snack car employee Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho), his father, Hee-bong (Byeon Hee-bong), daughter Hyun-seo (Ko Ah-seong), sister Nam-joo (Bae Doona), who’s an archer, and Gang-du‘s brother Nam-il (Park Hae-il), an alcoholic former activist who has not done much since graduating.
The story focuses on the family dealing with an unexpected attack by a mutated amphibian monster that emerged as a result of dumping formaldehyde in the Han River. The monster takes Hyun-seo seemingly killing her until Gang-du receives a call from Hyun-seo informing him that she was in fact still alive but trapped in the monster’s sewer lair.Gang-du and his family set out to save his daughter but must get by the government and the monster in order to do so.
I have to say giving that this was my first true experience with watching a Korean film in its entirety I enjoyed certain aspects of the film, but even as sophisticated as the movie is for a horror film, it’s aimless pacing ruins the potential for a fully pleasurable viewing experience. Accompanied by political commentary that attacks the American military presence and influence in Korea, the film serves up a dish of surreal horror layered with melodrama, science fiction, dark comedy, and lets not forget the blockbuster. If you are like me and you enjoy good B-movie fun you’ll get a minor kick out of the sometimes nonsensical actions of the characters and the films monster, who looks like a giant catfish with a freakishly long tail.
The strongest aspect of this film has to be its cinematography. I’m not familiar at all with the work of Kim Hyung Ku, but the look of the film is very atmospheric and does a fantastic job of setting the dark, apocalyptic visual world of the film. The audience gets to visually see a dark world created in Korea as a result a foreign “monster” who creates a “domestic” threat to Korean life. There could possibly be a more sophisticated allegorical subtext in The Host that I can’t interpret but what is clear is this film is less about the actual fish monster and more about the monsters that created it.
There is indeed a dim light in the dark waters of The Host. The film works as a descent Saturday night monster smash and at the same time offers us food for thought with regards to the politcal climate of Korea. The Host’s shortcomings only arise in the film’s lack of focus and aimless pace. As the second act comes to a close you’re left hoping that the 119th minute mark comes soon. Maybe its just me but past that point until the climax of the film I just don’t feel there’s much reason to watch. Again the movie is worth checking out but don’t expect much in rising action after act two. All in all, The Host works as a watchable monster movie, but its narrative structure is trying to hard to accomadate multiple genres that what starts as sophisticated horror film ends as goofy and bumbling as the Gang-du character himself.