Giant Monstershow: The Host (2006)

The October Horrorshow Giant Monstershow is nearing its end. The featured films have been reviewed in chronological order. After a glut of films from the 1950s, it only took another ten flicks to get us to 2006, when today’s film was released. The ’50s were the golden era for giant monsters. Hardly a week went by without a giant monster flick in the theaters, if the movies I’ve watched for this month have been any indication. Giant monsters still show up in theaters every few years, but the pace has slowed.

There is a silver lining to there being less giant monster films these days. When a new film shows up, it tends to be good. It’s not just the Americans and the Japanese that make these films, either, as witnessed by today’s film. (Readers will notice that despite the shoutout I gave to the Japanese above, there isn’t a single kaiju film in the Giant Monstershow. That’s because there are so many of them, they deserve their own month. Maybe someday.)

From South Korea comes The Host, from writer/director Bong Joon-ho and writer Baek Chul-hyun. The Host is not a well-known film here in the states, but in South Korea, it went on to be the biggest blckbuster in that country’s history. The Host is South Korea’s Avatar; its Avengers. Only the squares didn’t see it when it came out. It had none of the fanfare when it made its way over here, but a little bit of hype was deserved.

The Host follows Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho), a layabout in his late thirties who helps run a snackbar along the Han River with his father, Hee-bong (Byun Hee-bong). Gang-du seems to live for two things: sleep, and his young daughter, Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung). Gang-du dotes on his daughter, literally saving up his pennies to buy her a nicer cellphone. The rest of the Park clan is rounded out by Nam-il (Park Hae-il), an unemployed college grad, and Bae Doo-na as Nam-joo, a champion archer.  Viewers are introduced to the majority of the family early on in the film. It’s a short sequence that takes place immediately before the monster appears, and does much to showcase Bong’s skills as a filmmaker. In a very short anount of time, Bong gives his characters more depth than some entire films do with their characters.

As for that monster, it’s some form of mutant fish or salamander-type creature. It’s slimy and sickly-green. It’s about the size of a city bus, moves like a panther on land, like a squid in the water, and can use its tail to swing about like the world’s most agile primate. Its visage is indescribable and gross. In short, it’s a hell of a movie monster. The only criticism I have of the monster is that the CGI is not holding up. Still, its movements are smooth and it integrates into normally-lit shots quite well. When it’s dark or rainy...not so much.

The monster emerges from the Han River and preys upon the people than line its banks. During the first attack, Hyun-seo is captured by the beast, and the Parks give her up for lost. That sounds like a real downer, but Bong didn’t film this movie straight. There is a large amount of dark humor, as becomes apparent in the scene where the Parks mourn the loss of Hyun-seo. It’s a display of emotion that cannot be taken seriously.

Later, the Parks, and specifically Gang-du, are placed into quarantine, as it appears the monster is the host for an unknown virus. Thus, we get the title of the film. But, the original title in Korea translates as Monster, which fits the film much better. For, while the monster does indeed host a virus, that part of the plot is peripheral, to the point it could have been cut from the script with little effect.

While in quarantine, Gang-du receives a staticky phone call from Hyun-seo. The monster took her to its lair somewhere in the storm sewers that empty into the Han. The Park family then escapes from quarantine to go and rescue her.

The majority of the film is this act where the Parks try, fail, try, fail, and try some more to find Hyun-seo. Up to this point, the film had been moving along nicely, but it is here that viewers will begin to notice the 119-minute running time. There just isn’t enough plot to sustain a movie of this length. Even 10-15 minutes of cuts would have gone a long way towards sustaining the film’s pace. Still, that’s the only part of the film that taxed this reviewer. This is a very good film all around — not just a good monster flick. The cast is uniformly good and likable, the plot and pace are mostly good, and the creature, despite not being the best CGI, is wonderfully realized. Should one desire to watch a very good, and unique, monster flick, The Host is a worthy option.

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