Bong Joon-ho's The Host 2006 (Review)
The creature terrorizing a city might not be the worse
There doesn't seem to be much good will toward Americans in director Bong Joon-ho's The Host. It is not a fact that hangs over the film since they only appear two or three times throughout but each time with pernicious results. The Koreans only other nuisance is the title creature itself. If Bong's intention was to hint at how American intervention was felt by the Koreans it is so subtle as not to offend. But throughout the film several themes ran along side the creature but none too glaring to derail its rampage or divert the audience from the story which maintained its high energy along with all of its twists and turns keeping the outcome ambiguous.
It starts in a Korean lab where the American tells his Korean subordinate to dump some expired chemicals down the drain. Needless to say we find out the results of that action. Years later a group of park goers are drawn to an unusual mass hanging on a bridge. This mass throws the country into a panic as it descends from the bridge and starts collecting its meals.
We accompany the Park family, who own a food shack in the park of the first sighting, through Korea's travails. The patriarch Hee-bong (Byun Hee-bong) puts his, prone to doze, middle aged son, Gang-du (Song Kang-ho), in charge of the shop. Gang-du's introduction doesn't manifest any positive first impressions. The appearance of his teenage daughter, Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung), whose confidence and smarts boosts up our confidence in this family but Bong deflates us just as quickly when she becomes one of the first victims of the creature. The Park family, joined by Gang-du's sister Nam-joo (Bae Doona) and brother Nam-il (Park Hae-il), risk their lives being taken by the creature and getting trapped in the Korean bureaucracy to find Hyun-seo.
Bong's master visual story telling allows a viewer just to sit back and go for the ride. The main protagonist is the creature and it lurks around every corner heightening the film's suspense. But Bong is also interested in how people handle absurdity when they're thrown into unsuspecting circumstances. They draw from deep within their character to overcome the odds. This shift in the characters bring pleasant surprises that allows more investment from the viewer and delivers on the payback at the conclusion. Each sibling reaches inside and grabs the heroic saber for the sake of their niece and for them, its a great surprise. Even Gang-du steps up to the situation albeit from a brain operation- which is another gear shift that marked the abandonment of more attempts to figure out where Bong was going to take us.
Bong plays with absurdity and uses it to comic effect. What could be more absurd then a creature terrorizing Korea? How about the lengths to which a government will go to cover themselves, or people trying to survive and even grieve? The family first comes together when they discover that Hyun-seo is pronounced dead. The news breaks them and they weep uncontrollably. Its the kind of weeping and displays of sorrow that we see in the news. And Bong holds his camera on this scene long enough for the pity we have for this family to evaporate and be replaced by hilarity leading to guilt. But its part of Bongs understanding of human tendencies and how they confront absurdities.
From scene to scene Bong keeps his story moving as the family find Hyun-seo alive and attempt to rescue her. And within the undercurrent of the narrative, if a viewer wants to look hard, Bong has a lot to say about people, the Korean government and Americans . Its a tribute to a filmmaker and the ability in his craft that they can add depth to a story that continually reveals itself in viewers' minds many days after viewing while at the same time never deviating from the excitement.
The creature must be mentioned here. It is a major improvement over some others who come from CGI technology. The designer might have taken a note from the filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro whose rule of creatures shouldn't have their creepiness forced by adding fangs, horns, red eyes etc. It is a simple reptilian salamander hybrid whose presence, not its look, brings the chills.
Song Kang-ho (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Memories of Murder, Snowpiercer) carries this movie as much as the creature. He's supported by a wonderful cast but Mr. Song, unlike the creature, attaches both our hearts and minds to his character and his development is more interesting then the fore mentioned creature. I can't think of any actor playing a ditz, although his father explains his irritable characteristics, who the viewer might believe that his erasure would benefit the film,
develop into this magnificent hero who leads the family toward recovering his daughter. Mr. Song is the heart of this film and makes it a pleasure to watch.
Bong has several masterpieces to his credit and this is one of them. A family dynamic with humor and undercurrent moralistic themes that run under the surface while keeping the intensity up with a creature feature? This is what cinema is all about.