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The Host (KOREA 2006)

Director : Bong Joon-ho
Cast : Song Kang-Ho, Byun Hee-Bong, Bae Doo-Na, Park Hae-Il, Go Ah-Sung, Lee Jae-Eung, Kim Roi-Ha, Park No-Shik, Yoon Je-Moon, Im Pil-Sung

As it has done for ages, the Han River continues to pierce the very center of the capital city Seoul. But one day in the year 2000….Through an unfortunate incident, a creature of an obscure nature is conceived in the waters of the river. As the creature slowly starts to grow in the depths of the river, people fail to sense signs of an impending disaster, devoting themselves to the Korea-Japan World Cup soccer finals, the President elections and to their individual lives. Then one day in 2005, in front of countless citizens taking a stroll and enjoying the weekend on the banks of the Han River, the creature reveals itself in a shocking display of horror.

by Jin Hien Lau

Infusing the high concept entertainment values of Jaws or Snakes On A Plane with Oscar worthy portrayal of humanity’s struggle for survival with a pinch of tongue in cheek anti-bureaucracy subtext. That’s the best I can describe Bong Joon Ho’s “The Host” (Goemul) .

Let me make it clear now and proclaim this to be the best movie of 2006. (well, the best amongst what I’ve seen) . For those of you too lazy to read the synopsis and wondering what movie deserves such praise, you might want to brace yourself for a bit of an anticlimax when I tell you it’s essentially a Kaiju movie. This movie might very well be renamed “Monster by the River” by its inevitable International distributors and we internet elitists cant really even complain. But taking risk with such a campy concept and making it a full blown drama is testament to Director Bong Joon Ho’s talents.

Gang Du (Song Kang Ho) is the apparently slow son of a riverside snack stall owner Hee-bong (Byun Hee-bong). Looked down by his amateur competitive archer sister Nam-joo (Bae Doona) and unemployed college graduate brother Nam-il (Park Hae-Il). The only source of his devotion and motivation in life comes from his motherless school age daughter Hyun-seo (Ko Ah-sung). Hyun-seo is somewhat of a beacon of hope that binds the slightly unsatisfied family together. Her character is vital to the whole family and mostly Gang Du, and sets the whole narrative in motion when the monster decides to come out of its hiding one day and snatch her away. (and chewing and mauling down on quite a few others on the way).

Director Bong Joon Ho did the unconventional within the Monster film genre here in that he focuses the story on the family in this somewhat ridiculous situation. Instead of the pack of military experts escorting a worm collecting scientific genius that is the norm in monster movies. And frankly, it’s so refreshing you would wonder why no one did it before. Since it generates so much more sympathy for the protagonists. (yeah, who really cared for any of the humans in all those old Godzilla movies, we just wanted to see more destruction )

Family is perhaps the main theme of the film as for the bulk of the film we relate to these characters as they go thru anything ad everything including making severe mis-steps trying to reunite with Hyun-Seo and survive as a family again. It is all handled in a very believable and humane way and is not sugar coated at all. If anything, they even suffered severely for their mistake which makes it all the more engaging for the audience to sympathise with them, warts and all.

Also, making the narrative believable and refreshing is how the monster has been treated. It is in the end essentially just a force of natural disaster instead of an antagonist with premeditated evil intent. Simply put, it is just a beast out to make a habitat for itself and survive.

If there is an antagonist in this film it will have to be the bureaucrats, the authorities that only creates obstacles for the family on their journey. It is perhaps a watermark of Bong to criticise the incompetence of those in charge in his films as evident from his last film “Memories of a Murder”. But never once was it handled in an accusing or heavy handed way. In fact, it is handled in a way that is tongue in cheek and almost playful way that never undermines its more important subtext.

The whole bureaucratic subtext is influenced by such events as the real life incidents of US military officials ordering the disposal of chemical products into the Han river and political media manipulation that is more than a subtle hint of the Iraq War. Again, all of these only adds to the coherence and engagement of the narrative. Never once was it forceful or distractive.

To sum it up, this is great cinema that balances all the genre and themes that it juggled with and creates a thoroughly refreshing and engaging experience. It is nothing like you’ve ever seen before but everything you would have expected to see in the disaster film that just “gets it right”. Its culinary counterpart could quite possibly be the crazy sounding Mexican chili chicken chocolate mole. It might sound weird with chicken chili and chocolate together, but boy does it taste RIGHT given the touch of a master chef. Bong Joon Ho is precisely that, a master of his craft who has perhaps become my favourite Korean film maker.

Plot : 4/5
Acting : 4/5
Entertainment : 4/5
Overall : 4/5

Notable Scenes
I feel it is almost irrespective of me to list out specific scenes of this movie as I encourage all to enjoy it as a wholesome experience instead of chunks of little bitie ones.

Buy this movie at YesAsia – The Host

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