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HOST, THE (GWOEMUL) (director/writer: Bong Joon-Ho; screenwriters: Chul-hyun Baek/Ha Joon-won; cinematographer: Kim Hyung-koo; editor: ; music: Lee Byeong-woo; cast: Song Gang-ho (Park Gang-du), Byun Hee-bong (Park Hie-bong), Park Hae-il (Park Nam-il), Ko Ah-sung (Park Hyun-seo), Dun-na Bae (Park Nam-ju), Scott Wilson (American boss in a military hospital), Kim Hak-sun (Mr. Kim, Lab worker under Americans); Runtime: 119; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Kim Hyung-Koo; Magnolia; 2006-South Korea-in Korean and English, with English subtitles)
A pleasant reminder of the pleasures in the low-budget quickly made monster B-film of the 1950s.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (“Barking Dogs Never Bite”/”Memories of Murder”)directs with panache this hybrid horror pic, a pleasant reminder of the pleasures in the low-budget quickly made monster B-film of the 1950s that were both a wild carnival ride for just entertainment purposes and a subversive political telling of the American paranoia during the Cold War. The Host comes across as a cheaply made black comedy featuring a frazzled family brought together by tragic events and a movie trying to pass off as lightly as possible a post-911 allegorical message about the cause of panic over a new disease and the concerns over environment irresponsibility by institutions (which can probably equate to the questionable ‘fight against terrorism’ that’s also spread by the same kind of ignorance) springing from our own corruption and our misinformation from the media that leads us to have uneducated views in dealing with contemporary world problems.

It’s mainly a goofy fun film channeling the Godzilla monster on the loose movies, rather than a serious political film that demands our full attention. The monster slapstick jokes are the thing here, more than anything else.

The pic is smartly written by the director, Chul-hyun Baek and Ha Joon-won, and it became South Korea’s all-time box-office champ. An American remake is set for 2010 (ugh!!!).

At a US military base morgue, the arrogant American military officer (Scott Wilson) orders his reluctant Korean lab assistant (Kim Hak-sun) to dump toxic wastes (contaminated formaldehyde bottles)into Seoul’s Han River. Years later a mutant grows into a giant fast moving silvery amphibian monster, who one day emerges from the river to attack the beach onlookers (the monster equated with a Korea that’s polluted by America, that uses it as a dumping ground). The creature carries off its victims to the sewers and one of the vics is the uniform-wearing 11-year-old middle-school girl Park Nam-il (Ko Ah-sung), which causes herdysfunctional family to try and rescue her after receiving a cell phone call from her that she’s alive. But they are detained in a quarantineby the rigid military because the government says that they are infected by an unidentified virus spread by the host monster. The girl’s oafish father, Gang-du (Song Gang-ho), is a loser with a problem staying awake, who works in his hard working widowed father’s (Byun Hee-bong) riverbank foodstand. Gang-du goes off his nut in an emotional fit when he can’t explain to the dismissive authorities his little girl is alive in a sewer under a famous bridge named after a priest and gets even nuttier when he learns the virus doesn’t exist and the mad Americans still want to drill a hole in his head to take out the virus. So the distraught dad escapes detainment along with his father, his national archery bronze medal winning sister (Dun-na Bae)and his surly college educated but deadbeat unemployed salaryman uncle (Park Hae-il), and searches for his little girl.

The Park family learn the hard way that they can’t count on the government to tell the truth, that working-class stiffs are treated with no respect by the high-handed authorities and the public is never told the truth about the virus. The Americans are depicted as duplicitous in this tragic incident, since the new democracy in Korea is subservient to American opinion and the South Koreans get their marching orders from the Yanks.

It’s an entertaining popcorn movie, that gets its feet wet through its freakout special effects for its monster and its sympathetic look at a troubled but basically honest Korean family not under the thumb of the haughty Americans. It serves effectively as a richly provocative satire on monster movies and contemporary society, and becomes better than your average inane Hollywood monster movie because it can cleverly relate its monster to the misplaced geopolitics of the real world in trying to deal with everything from oil spills to SARS to fighting terrorism.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”