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April 1, 2007

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Movie Review – The Host (2007)

by RISHI AGRAWAL

The Host 040107

Perhaps the very notion of a good monster movie is a contradiction. I suppose that it depends on how you define the term. If you limit the concept to movies with a single monster, there are few examples. If you limit the concept further to a giant monster that terrorizes a populace, there are even fewer. Of course, there are exceptions. There are at least two good versions of King Kong and I am sure the original Godzilla film would have its defenders. But when we see a monster movie, we expect a certain amount of camp. Part of the fun of a monster movie is its silliness. Somehow, The Host manages to tread a fine line between ridiculous and serious and for that reason, it is a good monster movie.

The monster in question is The Host, named because it is believed to be carrying a deadly virus which is lethal to anyone who comes in contact with the creature. It was created out of a research lab in Seoul, South Korea after an American scientist ordered his lab assistant to pour toxic chemicals down the drain, which emptied into the Han River. The creature is difficult to describe since it is unique. With its prehensile tail, it can hang off bridges, and it seems to feel equally comfortable on land and in the water. It is both stealthy and powerful, and one of the pleasures of the movie is watching the creature move with such precision.

The protagonists in the movie are the Park family, which include the father Hie-bong (Hie-bong Byeon), who owns a food stand near the Han River, and his three children: his sons Gang-Du (Kang-ho Song) and Nam-il (Hae-il Park) and his daughter Nam-Joo (Du-na Bae). Gang-Du also has a daughter Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko). Gang-Du is a lazy man with dyed blond hair who works at his father’s stand while Nam-il’s defining characteristic is that he is an unemployed college graduate. Nam-Joo is the most celebrated member of the family after recently winning a Bronze medal in Archery at the Olympics. The family gets involved early in the film when Hyun-seo gets abducted by The Host. Director Joon-ho Bong does a good job of making these characters believable as a family. They bicker and make undercutting remarks about each other, but they also come together when they need to.

The tone of the movie is both its strength and its weakness. In addition to the standard monster movie elements, the film switches between drama and comedy and it turns on a dime. The drama drags us into the lives of the characters and makes us care about them and the comedy keeps the entire tone of the film light and entertaining. Unfortunately, some of the scenes become puzzling. Soon after Hyun-seo is abducted, the family fears that she is dead, and they gather at a memorial for victims of The Host’s first attack. The moment starts out as somewhat touching as the family weeps in sadness over Hyun-seo’s apparent death. And then, gradually, the scene becomes silly with the family rolling around on the floor in a burst of melodrama. I will admit that I am unsure how to feel about this scene. It made me uncomfortable, but I will admit that I was laughing as I was watching it.

The basic message of the film is a little heavy-handed. At its core, the film is trying to make a point about how incompetent Americans are, and the mistakes they make when they try to interfere in the affairs of other countries. We not only see this theme when The Host is created, but later in the film when the Americans try to solve the problem. It is not the message itself that I am taking issue with, but the fact that it is so overt. King Kong, at its core, makes a great point about what happens when man tries to exploit nature, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with the message.

For those of you who are looking for a traditional monster movie, I think you’ll find a lot to like about The Host. The action sequences are exciting, the special effects are well-done and the comedy provides enough kitsch if that is what you want. However, even if a monster movie does not interest you, there is still plenty to like about the film, especially the depth of the characters. Much of the comedy is character-driven and there are some touching moments in the film as well. The scenes with Hyun-seo as she is held captive by The Host are especially notable, as they are both harrowing and heartbreaking at the same time.

3 stars


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Helen
    Apr 2 2007

    I really liked most of The Host, especially the Park family dynamics. I completely agree with the last paragraph of the review. But I can’t recommend the film. The ending ruined the movie for me. I can’t be more specific without including spoilers, except to say that it was the one switch in tone I found too big for the rest of the movie to support.

    The anti-Americanism was irritating in itself and because it dragged out the conclusion, dissipating the tension. Scenes and plot turns were included with no purpose other than to further the anti-American theme when the movie should have been rushing to its conclusion to keep the audience from noticing how absurd the whole enterprise is. I don’t agree that the anti-Americanism was as benign as Rishi describes; America was not presented merely as incompetent, but as actively malicious.

  2. James
    Apr 3 2007

    Although there was a noticeable anti-American sentiment, I’d say there was also some blame being centered on the incompetent South Korean government as well. In this sense, I see “The Host” as being derisive of ruling bodies and bureaucracy in general when it comes to confronting crises.

    As for the shifts in tone, I found them to be wonderfully atypical and a pleasant shift from the formulae of many current Hollywood products. The funeral scene was a great example of this film’s ability to hit multiple emotions at once: tragedy begets confusion begets hilarity.

    A great movie and one I look forward to watching again.

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