Of Monsters and Men


The Host is a creature feature—with more than just gore.


By Sean Tanner



How do you kill a monster?

With a gun? A bow and arrow? Molotov cocktails? A road sign? All four techniques are used in The Host (Gwoemul), Joon-ho Bong’s madcap movie about a pollution-spawned monster. The film is a mad dash through the high points of the best raucous action flicks, the best dysfunctional family flicks, and the best government satire flicks—all for the price of one admission. The characters are believably eccentric, each with a beautiful array of their own personal monsters to kill before the end of the journey.


The film opens in the year 2000, with a United States military mortician ordering a Korean subordinate to dump hundreds of bottles of old formaldehyde down the sink of a morgue—despite broken-English protestations that the toxic chemical will end up in the Han river (This scene is based on a notorious real-life incident in 2000 that caused uproar and anti-American demonstrations in South Korea). Two years later, a fisherman spots a large tadpole-like creature and pulls it out in his bait cup. The creature promptly bites his fishing partner on the finger before it swims away.

In the present day, we join the Park family, who run a snack bar trailer in a riverside park in the capital city of Seoul. An idyllic day is interrupted when the family notices a slimy, prehistoric creature hanging by its tail from the bottom of a bridge. A gawking, gasping crowd gathers on the shore, watching as the monster dives into the water and swims toward them. The chase that ensues culminates with the creature snatching up the youngest member of the Park family, Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko).

The family is devastated, until a mysterious cell phone call gives them hope that Hyun-seo is still alive. Not surprisingly, the attack of the monster causes national pandemonium and eventually full-blown international intervention, and the Parks are quarantined because of fears that they are infected with a virus. The authorities refuse to search for Hyun-seo, and the Parks must fight to escape so that they might have a shot at rescuing her from the monster themselves.

They’re unlikely saviors. Park Hee-bong (Byun Hee-bong), the patriarch and proprietor of the snack bar, is eager to lead the search, but his family can’t quite seem to get it together. We first see his oldest son, Gang-du (Song Gang-ho) attending the snack bar asleep, drooling on the candy with coins stuck to his face, and he proves himself incompetent at every turn. Hee-bong’s other son, Nam-il (Hae il-Park), is college educated, but unemployed, angry, and often drunk—he admits that he spent the bulk of his college days demonstrating against the government instead of studying. Their sister, Nam-joo (Du-na Bae) shows some promise, however, as an archery medalist (which, of course, comes in handy when fighting a monster).

The monster itself is a gorgeous mutant—part Jurassic t-rex, part Jaws shark, and part Dune sandworm. Created by John Cox and his Creature Workshop, this amphibious beast is a far cry from the one Cox won an Oscar for, Babe the pig. Not only is it horrific and lovely visually, but it is a bona fide acrobat that swoops under bridges and throughout the sewer. But this beast is only one of the many foes that the Park family faces. In addition to the mutant holding their Hyun-seo hostage, they also battle the unscrupulous doctors probing Gang-du’s body for clues about the virus and a society under the spell of “security.”

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Comments

A unique review from a movie expert. It does make me want to see the movie. The picture this paints includes both believable make believe, and unbelievable situations alike.

Jurassic T-rex, Jaws, and the sandworm rolled into one? Why didn't you just write "best movie ever", and save yourself some time?

Riveting review - I especially enjoyed the thought-provoking descriptions of the beautiful monster. I am genuinely intrigued...

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