The Host (2006)

Directed by
Quirky monster movie with added social commentary
Reviewed by Simon on 2021-05-16

An American scientist empties 400 bottles of formaldehyde into the Han river and some time later a gigantic monster emerges from it and starts eating people. 13 year old Park Hyun-Seo is one of those swallowed by the beast and presumed dead, causing tremendous grief for her family - but that night her father receives a phone call from Hyun-Seo, telling him she is trapped in the beast's lair. When they can't get the authorities to believe them, the Park family realise they will have to rescue Hyun-Seo by themselves.

THE HOST was a smash hit at home and abroad, one of the first Korean films to reach a broad international audience after OLDBOY. I was lucky enough to see it in a cinema, sadly with not so many other people. It's a slick monster movie dosed with Bong Joon-Ho's trademark black humour and social commentary, rivalling Hollywood films for production values - but a Hollywood producer would probably have shot the writer the moment they heard "scene of a family grieving for a 13 year old girl, played for comedic effect".

THE HOST is successful precisely because it throws curveballs, mixing up genres and playing around with clichés before tossing them out. It doesn't begin particularly encouragingly, with the awkward English dialog in the first scene failing to establish any coherent motivation for the scientists except "American", but once we are introduced to Song Kang-Ho's lovable loser and his precocious daughter it shifts onto a more convincing and enjoyable track. The ending is particularly effective for avoiding the easy way out.

The Park family are a mismatched bunch who quarrel with each other at the drop of a hat, but once they realise Hyun-Seo needs them they come together to fight for their own - mostly against the obstruction of the authorities. Bong Joon-Ho resists the temptation to have his characters be transformed into heroic figures by their situation, they remain engagingly flawed and messy people, but prove to be capable of bravery and sacrifice none the less.

THE HOST combines action movie thrills with smart writing and emotional depth to make a film that works almost as well as political commentary as it does as popcorn entertainment - no mean feat. Bong Joon-Ho is clearly a political film maker, but never forgets that the main reason most people go to the cinema is to be entertained.

There was supposed to be a U.S. remake in the works at one point with Gore Verbinski attached, but it never saw the light of day - I'd like to believe that the producers eventually realised that the film is basically perfect as it is and decided they should just encourage people to watch the original.