Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Host (Goemul)

My first ever Korean monster movie. Yay, another personal milestone achieved. This movie also features a very familiar face going by the name of Song Kang-ho. In all of the movies I've seen him in he's been incredibly good and sometimes even unrecognizable because he throws himself into his roles so much. 

This time Kang-ho portrays the underachieving father Park Gang-do who sleeps all of the time when he is supposed to be watching his family-owned snack bar. He also the food from his customers' plates. His daughter thinks he's lazy and so does the rest of his family, but other than that he's got it made. Life seems fairly easy. 

However, trouble rears its ugly head when a monster rises from the Han River and throws the lives of the Park family into disarray. 

Monster movies are a tried and true formula and they are almost a sure-win when they are of the East Asian variety, but The Host is in a class by itself. While this movie certainly contains a fair share of monster movie cliches and a couple of cringe-worthy moments courtesy of some terrible American actors, The Host is buoyed by the actors portraying the Park family and by the creature itself. 

I thought for sure this movie was going to have some horrible SyFy movie type of effects from the outset. I just knew that the creature was going look insanely stupid and ridiculously fake. I was wrong. The monster, while maybe not as convincing as... say, the one in John Carpenter's The Thing, is definitely a passable creature that stands up to all of its many scenes in broad daylight. It looks creepy and menacing, but it doesn't look like something too alien. It does look like something that could have plausibly mutated from a polluted river. 

The fact that there were so many scenes of the creature in broad daylight showed some real cojones from the creators of this movie. Normally a creature first appears in shadow or at night or in the fog and the big reveal isn't until the very end, but we get to see all of the creature from the get-go in this one. It makes for a very memorable early movie sequence as it chases after Park Gang-do and his daughter. 

Song Kang-ho is brilliant in this movie and what I loved most about his character was that his character really was borderline stupid throughout most of the film. He's a slacker and doesn't know shit from shinola, but he must somehow outrun a government that wants to use him as a test subject and then rescue his daughter from a monster that is as big as a dump truck. If left to his own devices he'd be screwed and his daughter would likely be dead. In that sense, he probably isn't too much different than any of us would be in that situation. 

If not for the help of his brother (throwback protester type), his sister (bronze medalist archer), and his father (snack shop owner) there wouldn't really be much of a movie. So it's basically these four characters vs. the world and an evil creature. 

But if a fairly nondescript actor like Matthew Broderick can single-handedly defeat Godzilla then there must be hope for this family, right? 

I guarantee you'll love this family. What Dean Koontz tries and often fails at doing when it comes creating to warm quirky families, The Host succeeds at doing while making it look easy. Pay close attention to the young actress that portrays Park Gang-do's daughter, too. She'll win your heart. 

I guess I should also give fair warning that there is a bit of critique aimed at the US from this film. It's not even the talentless American actors that frequently seem to appear in Korean movies when the presence of someone English-speaking is needed, but the actual storyline that contains a few jabs here and there. The river pollution is caused by an idiotic American in a position of power that orders one of his Korean subordinates to dump a shitload of formaldehyde down a sink because the bottles were dusty. The formaldehyde subsequently enters the Han River and over time the Mega-Fish creature or whatever it is gets born. 

There are a few other instances, but that one should suffice. According to Wikipedia, North Korea even lauded some praise on this film because it seemed anti-US. I don't really think that is the case, though. This film is critical of the US, but it seems to me that films that like to critique the US made by foreigners are often considered anti-US while ones made by Americans that do the same thing are often considered thought-provoking. Of course, we tend to quibble amongst ourselves about what is really anti-US, but we almost always agree (in red states, at least) that foreign films that try to make fun of us or make us look bad aren't "American" (as if being "American" is something other than simply being a native of the US). 

Well, duh, this film isn't "American" and it doesn't care about being one. It's South Korean. I didn't disagree too much with what it had to say about us, either. However, if you know a few Republicans that have a hard-on for a "America" (or "'Murrica") than I'd give you five bucks to make them watch this film. That is, if they watch things that aren't in English to begin with because doing so isn't "American."

That aside, I think anyone should be able to enjoy this film and I definitely recommend it. It is a very enjoyable monster movie with some great acting, directing, and a fairly cool monster. The ending was brutal, though. Great, but brutal. 


  1. Did you see a dubbed version of this or a subtitled version? I saw this during the 2011 SKMB horror challenge and I was reading what I wrote about it back then and I seemed to like it but thought I got lost and thought it may have been because I saw a dubbed version. The translation in dubbed versions can be awful sometimes and I prefer subtitles. It was weird that the dvd I rented didn't have subtitles. Here's what I wrote in 2011 (don't you just love how things last forever on your computer?)

    The movie has its moments and can be both frightening and entertaining with some very good special effects. I just think the story is a mess with too many plot lines that go nowhere. Maybe I lost something in the translation because I saw a dubbed version instead of the subtitled version. I hate dubbed versions of movies and the actors that did the voices were so awful it was distracting. One thing that hits you like a hammer when you watch this movie is the anti-American sentiment. A Korean man is forced to dump chemicals in the Han River by his American boss causing the creation of the monster. There are numerous other blatant digs at the US throughout the movie and I’m not offended by that but there are so many digs, I felt like yelling at the screen, “OK, I got it already.”

    If there is a subtitled version, I'd like to see it again.

    1. I definitely watched the subtitled version. I can't stand dubbed films. I looked on the Wikipedia page about "Anti-American Sentiment in Korea" and The Host is singled out as a stand alone entry. However, the part about a Korean mortician being ordered to dump formaldehyde is actually based on truth. And monster movies, at least a lot of the classic ones, always seemed to warn about the dangers of government and power and advanced weaponry. So it didn't seem too out of spirit with movies' past to me.

      I did find this article from 2004 about the mortician dumping formaldehyde in 2000. This movie was made in 2006 so the feelings over the issue were still there although the formaldehyde issue was just the tip of the iceberg.

    2. I'll give it another view since the streaming version has subtitles. I did like it but the dubbed thing is so distracting that it really takes away a lot from a movie. Also, I have seen several Korean movies since I saw this one (which was the first or one of the first Korean films I had ever seen). I think I have a little better feel of the Korean style of film making now than I did the first time I saw this.

  2. I completely understand anti-American sentiment in many instances. The US has done a lot of bad stuff in other countries that we barely hear about. So I don't really understand why people get so upset we they see anti-American sentiments in movies. Plus, it's not like we haven't had our share of anti-Asian sentiment in our movies. I think the best way to understand these types of things is not to get mad when you see it but ask yourself, "what are they mad about?" and try to understand where they are coming from and learn a little something.

    I know that people in other countries get very angry (and rightfully so) at American companies that pollute their countries. But, they also need to look at their own government because many times these companies have left the US because of environmental regulations only to be welcomed with open arms in another country willing to look the other way for the tax revenue.

    This is why a little in your face controversy is good in our movies. Sometimes a movie or book may resonate with someone who didn't realize certain issues existed. So there's my soapbox moment of the day. XD