The Host

The Host (2006) movie poster

(2006) dir. Joon-ho Bong
viewed: 04/06/07 at Embarcadero Cinemas, SF, CA

This Korean Godzilla-esque horror film had been getting a fair amount of buzz, and though I didn’t know a whole lot about it, I had it up there on my list of films to see.  Directed by Joon-ho Bong, whose Memories of Murder (2003) was an interesting serial killer film and also one of Korea’s top-grossing films of all time, The Host is similarly interesting, though within a completely different genre, an environmental-inspired monster movie, weighted with social criticism.

Something that I have found interesting about the Korean films that I have seen, and by no means has this been a broad cross-section of the country’s filmic output, but social commentary seems highly ingrained in many of the narratives, ones in which in American films of the same genres would not necessarily have those elements.  I don’t know enough about Korean history or culture to fully understand the resonances, but it strikes me that there is a more politically motivated and protest-oriented culture there.

The corniest bit of this film is the opening sequence in which an American scientist, against the protest and better judgment of his Korean lab assistant, orders the assistant to pour gallons of formaldehyde and other outdates chemicals down the drain, implying the toxic dump as the source of mutation that creates “The Host” as the monster from the Han River comes to be known.  It turns out based on some basic web research that this incident is essentially based in fact,…that is the chemical dump, not the terrorizing beast.

Additionally, there is this whole fear of contagin, this disease and infection, that mysteriously effects and kills one American in the film, resulting in an infiltration by the American military and a pack of lies that are spilled out.  Some of the scarier aspects of the narrative have to do with the control of people and misinformation that is distributed.  There is an American who is portrayed as a hero, the one who dies, and maybe that is to show that this is not an attack on Americans, per se, but a criticism and perception of the American government and military and their approach to controling and mediating Korea in times of crisis.  It’s a significant portion of the story.

That said, it’s also an entertaining action film, with a pretty cool-looking monster, and Memories of Murder, it also plays this weird line with comedic acting and more serious intent.  This being a much more fantastical story and everything, the film shows more comedy than the other film, occasionally grating, occasionally soppy emotional, occasionally fun.