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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

March 30, 2007
I feel so effusive and enthusiastic about The Host that I'm worried I may come across as one of those Reading Rainbow book reviewers from when we were kids ("And what happens when you take your magical flying shoes to school? The best ending ever! But don't take my word for it! Go check it out at your library!"). But really, I still feel swelled with amazement and feeling three days after seeing the movie, which, in case you're unaware, is a Korean film that a lot of people are calling a "monster movie" but in actuality covers a lot more ground than that relatively layer-less genrefication leads you to believe.

The "Host" to which the title refers is a practically indescribable monster (Fish? Lizard? Snake? Monkey? Alien?), borne out of some irresponsible chemical dumping in the Korean river of Han. The monster (let's call him "Jim," for simplicity's sake) swims and dives and charges like a champ, eating up Koreans along the way and spitting them out into his sewer nest. The authorities, such as they are, believe that Jim, in addition to being gross and scarily agile, is also carrying a virus. The unfortunate Park family has bit hit with a triple whammy - coming into contact with the beast (thereby becoming a biological threat), losing their youngest member to it, and, the worst of all frustrations, being unable to convince anybody that she's still alive and needs their help.

There are at least two major things going on here. The first and most important is that even a dysfunctional family of misfits and screw-ups can band together (to the best of their ability, anyway) to break through a lockdown and save one of their own. It's not even something they have to think about; they automatically move as a unit towards their goal even while bickering amongst each other. Occasionally, this can be really funny, but as a plot element in the film it is not consistent. The tragedy surrounding this group of vigilantes is too heavy to allow humor to exist for long, but somehow it all works and The Host manages to be both funny and really, really upsetting. The film achieves a different sort of balance than could be found within the genre of monster films, which tend to focus on the destruction of unnatural beings with weapons and one-liners. The Host defies convention and dives much deeper into the psyches of those affected. Their struggles - physical and emotional - are detailed and engaging, and scenes unexpectedly explode in directions you never imagined.

The film's second theme is less prominent but eerily consistent throughout the film: the American government is nothing short of evil. Not just ridiculous or blundering or stupid, as it's often portrayed; the United States that's represented here deliberately and consciously does the wrong things. Individual officials are reminiscent of The Matrix's chilling Agent Smith - painted in clear, calm, unsettling tones that contrast against the emotional Park family's sputterings of grief and desperation. An American citizen heroically helps fight off the monster and is quickly and sadly eaten, but American government and military agents are directly responsible for the pollution of the river that causes the mutation, the hysteria caused by the announcement of the "virus," and, most tellingly, the refusal to cease the deployment of their grand anti-biological warfare plan for the sake of a few inconsequential Koreans' health. The idea - and I'm risking being blacklisted by the Patriot Act here - is that the American government jumps at (or invents) any opportunity to launch an excessive and misdirected campaign of fear, and... isn't that terrorism?

Back to Jim for a second though. If you're in this for a scare, The Host's CGI won't let you down. Nothing is more horrifying than a huge, disgusting, mutant alien-fish-lizard trying to devour adorable Korean children. There are a couple of overly artificial-looking spots, but for the most part, director Joon-ho Bong applies tension to special effects so well that even the pleasant Seoul riverside easily becomes an environment of fear and adrenaline. And the comedic parts turn into disturbing parts so quickly that it is difficult to adjust as fast as the film requires, causing the mood to become that much more jarring. It's also beautiful, by the way, and, I don't care what anyone says, you have to admire a director who can eke beauty out of chemical gas and regurgitated bones.

SEE ALSO: www.hostmovie.com

--
Susan Howson
A staff writer attending graduate school in Richmond, VA, Susan Howson cannot be persuaded to stop talking about movies.

See other articles by Susan Howson.

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