Directed by: Bong Joon-ho || Produced by: Choi Yong-bae
Screenplay by: Baek Chul-hyun, Bong Joon-ho || Starring: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona, Go Ah-sung, Oh Dal-soo, Yim Pil-sung
Music by: Lee Byung-woo || Cinematography: Kim Hyung-ku || Edited by: Kim Sun-min || Country: South Korea || Language: Korean
Running Time: 119 minutes
Renowned South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder , Mother , Snowpiercer ) can do it all when it comes to genre variety. Though he has thoroughly mastered the modern Korean staple of bone-chilling, morally ambiguous crime thrillers, he shows here with The Host that no genre, no matter how outwardly cheesy, he can handle with ease. The Host is a hardcore B-movie and monster flick, featuring unforgettable scenes of people running and screaming for their lives while a cartoonish amphibious beast chases after them. It boasts trademark Korean dark humor, goofy violence, and insightful political commentary. Though the design of the titular beast leaves something to be desired, and the ending runs unnecessarily dark, Bong breathes life into the largely forgotten B-movie monster subgenre, which hasn’t seen mainstream recognition since Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975).
The Host once again features Bong-regular Song Kang-ho in the leading role, this time playing a lazy, unambitious goofball of a Dad who has to take action after his daughter is abducted by the film’s eponymous beast. His character is archetypical of underdog hero-driven stories, particularly American comedies, but this familiar, cliched setup fits with the rest of the cornball story that grows more and more entertaining as the narrative’s competing forces and desperate characters become increasingly fed up with the chaos around them. Arguably the film’s greatest strength and weakness is its wacky tone, something that makes the film unpredictable despite its formulaic premise, but also makes the story feel unfocused.
Song’s versatility and his chemistry with the rest of the strong supporting cast are what make the unfocused parts of the story entertaining. Song’s arc and his relationship with his adorkable dysfunctional family, as well as the overall development of the story, feel different than your usual monster movie, but that’s what makes the movie charming. Bong is doing what many great directors before him have done (e.g. Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Ridley Scott) by taking this B-movie concept and making it A. Song remains one of his most invaluable tools in that auteur-transformation.
Though at times unfocused and confusing, much of the conflict, monster scares, and social satire are interwoven into a riotously fun creature-feature. Like many under-appreciated genre films, The Host is a much deeper film than it’s DVD-description would suggest, and if you stick with the surprisingly multilayered story, the narrative stakes pay off.
The one final element I would complain about is the lackluster monster design. While I applaud Bong for creating a somewhat original beast, the monster ‘s appearance alternates between comical and grotesque. Worse still are the numerous instances where the monster’s digital FX don’t convince, and these scenes are robbed of their tension. The beast remains an effective plot-device regardless of its special FX shortcomings, but given the creature’s role in the story, its lack of intimidation or threatening presence is disappointing.
Much of what can be held against The Host are numerous small nitpickings that, taken as a whole, amount to significant flaws in an otherwise fun, intelligent monster film. This isn’t Bong’s strongest film given his impressive filmography, but it’s one his most unique and off-kilter stories that combines effective character drama, scares, and Bong’s trademark cinematographic skill. Sure, this killer Korean tadpole is no Peter Benchley’s Jaws, but then again, if that’s the main thing one complains about while watching this movie, it’s indicative of how much else the film gets right.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Lead by strong characterizations, a complex, socially conscious story, and Bong’s great eye for cinematic detail, The Host is a pulpy cocktail mix of a modern creature-feature. You won’t see the end coming. Many scenes with the monster are packed with intense action and creepy scares.
— However… the ending to this monster tale is somewhat clunky; the story as a whole feels inconsistent given the film’s abrupt shifts in tone, as well as some unimpressive CGI.
? Dysfunctional families are the best film families 😀