Written by: Joon-ho Bong, Chul-hyun Baek, Won-jun Ha
It’s been a while since we’ve had a decent monster movie. Horror movies with monsters don’t count, either. I’m talking about a straight out, standup fight where the hero can see the monster and the monster can clearly see him or her. Those were the days of giant lizards rampaging through Tokyo with only human determination and cooperation to stop them. Until the next movie, anyway. Today, that movie has arrived. Director Boon Joon-ho brings the purity of the monster movie back to the silver screen with The Host. Fortunately, Boon doesn’t just regurgitate the formula, he adapts and blends it with family values that raises the stakes just enough to make the film something special.
The story opens in an American medical facility near the Han River in Korea. An American doctor tells his Korean subordinate to dump several bottles-worth of toxic chemicals down the drain. When the Korean subordinate informs the American that the chemicals will poison the river the American shrugs off the comment and continues with the order. Oh, those evil Americans.
Sure enough, years later, the pollutants create a giant fish-lizard monster in the Han River. This ushers in the meat of the story and introduces Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho), middle-aged man, running a snack stand with his aging father on the bank of the river. He’s very well played as a simple-minded, but well-meaning man who unfortunately neglects his young daughter Park Hyun-seo (Ko A-sung). He stops taking his daughter for granted when the monster emerges from the Han River, wreaking havoc on the river-goers and making off with Hyun-seo. The Park family reunites to hunt down the beast and save Hyun-seo.
We find, however, that the monster in the movie isn’t really the fish-lizard and the hero isn’t Gang-du. The hero is the family unit and the monster is the world around them. Throughout the film, the Park family has to constantly contend with evil American scientists, corrupt Korean bureaucrats and traitorous friends. The importance and safety of family is strikingly displayed during a surrealistic scene when the family has dinner together and the missing daughter joins them to complete the unit.
Western audiences may be put off by a few (possibly Korean) story-telling conventions. Westerners expect setups and payoffs. The Host eschews these conventions, which will leave Americans unresolved in parts. For instance, Hyun-seo’s aunt loses an archery competition in the beginning for taking too much time firing her arrow. This never comes into play later in the film. Conversely, new characters are introduced late in the film without any explanation as to who they are or why they’re willing to help.
Visual effects, handled by The Orphanage, which was formed from former members of Industrial Light and Magic, were superb overall. The only time the effects looked computer-generated were during the scenes with fire, but that’s just being nitpicky.
Overall, you’re going to have a good time. If you’ve come to watch a monster movie, you won’t be disappointed. There’s plenty of killing, blood and screaming. But if you open yourself up to rest of the movie, you just might leave with something more.