AKA: Gwoemul, or 괴물 ("Monster")
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Writer: Joon-ho Bong, Won-jun Ha, Chul-hyun Baek
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Runtime: 119 minutes (aprox.)
Release date: 2006
The Host is a monster movie that had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and is to date the highest grossing South Korean film of all time. Although clearly paying homage to other monster movies, from Alien to Godzilla, the film also manages to be a political satire and a dysfunctional family comedy at the same time.
Minor spoilers ahead (from the first 20 minutes of the movie)
Starting with a flashback to 2000, the film shows an American scientist giving the order to dump gallons of leftover toxic waste down a sink drain, where it will flow untreated into Seoul's Han River. We then see present day Seoul, where the Park family runs a snack shack on the shores of Han. While patriarch Park Hie-bong watches television with his 13-year old granddaughter Hyeon-seo, his son Gang-du (who seems to suffer from narcolepsy and possibly a developmental disability) attempts to fulfill orders, delivering snacks to park visitors. A crowd gathers on the banks of the river to watch a bizarre looking yet graceful something that plunged into the water from the underside of a bridge. Gang-du tosses a soda can into the water, and an appendage grabs it. For a brief moment, the crowd tosses their snacks into the water, hoping to entice the creature to make an appearance.... and then it does. An enormous, loping multi-legged and tentacled amphibian that would not be out of place in an H.P. Lovecraft story goes on the rampage, destroying property, vehicles, and innocent bystanders. It also snatches up Hyeon-seo and disappears with her into the river.
Victims of the monster attack are placed in quarantine, and here is where the film takes a different direction than a by-the-numbers genre picture. The government announces to the victims, and to the media, that the civil emergency du jour is an outbreak of a deadly virus, and not a monster, and certainly not the result of any nefarious environmental contamination by the American military. The Park family, wracked with grief over the loss of Hyeon-seo, decide to defy the quarantine and aim to recover the girl's body. So the pointed satire shifts into a family drama/comedy as they attempt to overcome their family issues and individual flaws as they (and not the military, or any scientist, or upstanding young hero with a brash attitude and perfect hair) take it upon themselves to track down the monster.
The creature (designed by Weta Workshop in New Zealand, and brought to life via CGI by The Orphanage in San Francisco), makes several more appearances throughout the movie, and Joon-ho Bong works the tropes of the monster movie genre in an attempt to fulfill audience expectations-- and many critics have praised the film highly for its scare factor. But thinking back to my experience watching the film: it felt like a character study of a family whose drama often crossed the line into comedy, with the monster as the mcguffin (albeit a gorgeously realized one that you can't take your eyes off of). Though the combination of genres was at first disconcerting, and they conflation of the two lead to some surprising plot twists, both the family drama and the monster movie plot come to satisfying conclusions, making The Host a very entertaining two hours.
Hollywood wouldn't have dreamed of something like this in a million years, so of course, they optioned it for an American remake. Universal Studios won the rights, and for a while Gore Verbinski was attached as a producer.
Richard Corliss. "Host with the Most." Time. March 8, 2007. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1597534,00.html (Accessed November 26, 2010)
Dana Stevens. "Beastly Good." Slate. March 15, 2007. <http://www.slate.com/id/2161902/> (Accessed November 26, 2010)
Internet Movie Database. "The Host (2006)." http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468492/combined (accessed November 26, 2010)
The Host (Official Web Site). http://www.hostmovie.com/ (Accessed November 26, 2010)