The Host (Joon-ho Bong, 2006)

When you put aside “The Host”‘s not-so-subtle…okay, insultingly blatant…pro-environment, anti-American, anti-Formaldehyde message and the overall campiness and exploitativeness, you’ve got a surprisingly deep and fun and interestingly-constructed little monster movie in this, Korea’s all-time highest grossing movie.  So all the Americans are either evil, cross-eyed, or both, the monster looks about as convincing as the Rancor in “Return of the Jedi” from 27 years ago, and just about everyone outside of the family of protagonists are little more than Victims #’s 1-8000, but it’s a gross monster movie trying and failing to make a grand political message (it’s kinda cute how hard it tries to be something special…), so shut up and watch and have fun.  But, there is something interesting afoot when you get past the schlockiness, because call me crazy, but the family dynamic was done very, very well.  Naturally just about every monster movie deals with the whole dysfunctional family being forced to come together in the face of adversity, but in terms of dysfunctional-family-being-forced-to-come-together-in-the-face-of-adversity movies, even ones where that adversity isn’t in the form of an amphibious man-eating squid, this one pretty much nailed it.  The acting and the characters themselves are silly, no doubt, but it’s an interesting family dynamic regardless, with the shopkeeper father and his three grown-up, dysfunctional, completely different children coming together to save the ne’er-do-well son’s precocious young daughter from the vile clutches of the beast.  Together, they’re the consummate fuck-ups, and they outwardly can’t stand each other as the college graduate son and bronze medal-winning archer daughter look down on their brother and ol’ dad has to come to his boy’s defense, but to see them not just have to, but want to put aside their differences to save that little girl is pretty damn endearing, and a surprisingly deep and unique family structure for what’s otherwise a man-eating monster movie.  The parallel story structure is a major factor in keeping your attention, as the story shifts between the family’s inept but sincere attempt to rescue Gang-Du’s daughter while evading both the authorities and the title character, and the little girl surviving Bear Grylls-style in the monster’s lair.  “The Host” isn’t exactly the pinnacle of great storytelling (after a rather thrilling climax, the very end is, well, 😕 .  Also, I wasn’t aware that that was a typical result of a frontal lobotomy…), especially when those filthy, heartless Americans rear their ugly heads, but it still has that nice story of a family coming to terms with each other and their flaws, to go along with all the cool and gross death scenes.  Also helps that the tone of the story is literally all over the place.  One minute it’s a straight-up monster-jumps-out-of-the-corner horror movie (one of the stalest of all genres, but a few of the scares here were impressive), the next a family drama, the next a slapstick comedy.  It’s a mess, sometimes to its detriment but more often just making the proceedings more interesting – one minute this movie would take itself way too seriously with the drama and the messages and what-not, and the next it’d just take the plunge into good, chintzy fun.  Sometimes the humor works, and sometimes it’s really awkward (case and point the weird-ass…what do I call it…brawl? amongst the family members at a public memorial for the monster’s victims that was like a poor man’s Three Stooges).  So often “The Host” is right on track as a surprisingly human drama amidst the backdrop of a monster haunting the Han River, other times it doesn’t know which way is left.  What does that get you?  Damn good television (because I watched it on a television…).


1 comment so far

  1. Joseph Sylvers on

    I think there is at least one “good” American in the guy who rushes to fight the monster when it makes it’s first big attack? The family dynamic is at the heart of this movie like you say, it’s what makes the monster attack scenes so exciting(for the most part), because we are made to care about the characters, though they very Royal Tennenbaumsish in their diversity and quirkyness. It’s by far the most entertaining “giant monster movie” of the decade, although besides “Cloverfield” there hasn’t been much competition. “Big Man Japan” was also pretty fun, if not as all around engaging.

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