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The Host (2006)

October 7, 2010

10/10 Family Values

A game changer if there ever was one.

The Host is about a dysfunctional, semi-pathetic family who find themselves coming together to grieve the death of one of their own after she gets snatched up by a sea monster that was inadvertently created by a dumbass American scientist. So they all get quarantined by the government, they get tested and probed up the wahzoo, but then the dead girl’s father gets a phone call from his daughter who’s somehow still alive and needs to be rescued stat. So the family comes together like never before, busts out of Hazmat city and scours the sewer systems from top to bottom while dodging the fuzz now that they’re the lead story on South Korea’s Most Wanted.

For all the unhealthy amount of time I spend watching movies these days and all the subsequent exercise/sunlight I’m missing out on, one of the biggest perks that’s come along with this little project has undoubtedly been the discovery of writer/director Bong Joon-ho (thanks to reader Smally for clarifying that they put last names first over in South Korea, that was confusing). His latest effort, Mother, was great, I still need to see his contribution to Tokyo! and I really didn’t think it could get any better than his debut effort, Memories of Murder, but along comes this total curveball, a 21st Century Godzilla joint that’s completely different from everything else he’s done and from the outset probably doesn’t look like it merits anything more than mindless entertainment with cheap special effects, yet it ends up being one of the best damn movies I’ve seen in ages.

Crazy, but I’ll take it.

For starters, this is not a movie to be written off by the looks of its poster because as much as its working off a sci-fi horror premise, it’s executed with more humor than anything Adam Sandler’s done since Happy Gilmore and more heart than you’ll likely find in 90% of these inspirational Hollywood tear-jerkers that show you the whole damn movie in the trailer and constantly remind you of all the Oscar-nominated actors you can look forward to ogling at. Seriously, this movie is hilarious, talkin’ belly laughs here. Bong’s thing has always been specializing in having slapstick gags ready to roll so that things don’t get too heavy when they don’t need to be and having dim-witted, endearing protagonists who gradually grow up but never quite leave behind their caricature roots to deliver it all. And the whole cast really does a stellar job of playing this shtick up from start to finish and what might seem like a bizarro approach from the outset ends up serving as a perfect balance that makes you feel those heartstrings getting yanked.

So unless you’re from South Korea, there’s a strong chance you won’t know who these actors are, but that’s cool, because they’re all Bong regulars and they all rock. Song Kang-ho in particular is nothing short of the man as the deadbeat dad with a heart the size of Asia, Park Gang-du. Such a great character, so easy to root for and apparently Song is a big deal over in his neck of the woods. Not surprising.

The thing is, as much as this is a creature feature, it’s really not about the monster climbing in your windows, snatching your people up, it’s about family, and this family is something else. When we’re first introduced to them, they’re made up of a drunk uncle, an athletic aunt who perpetually cracks under pressure, a grandfather who’s too nice to stand up while everyone walks all over him, a half-assed (albeit entirely loving) dad and his daughter who’s the apple of their eyes. They’re kind of a mess, they’re nothing to envy, but when it comes to saving the best part of themselves, they form a truly amazing whole that flat-out refuses to give up no matter the obstacles. God, I’ve got a bit of a lump in my throat just writing this, because while no one’s family is perfect, we all like to think that if our lives were in danger that those we hold dearest would go to the ends of the Earth to get us back safe and sound. That’s what family is and that’s who these people are. For all their flaws, they’re perfect when it counts and it puts all the petty shit in perspective.

And that’s not all, ’cause from a sci-fi horror aspect, it is freakin’ awesome. With the exception of the Cloverfield monster, I tend to have a big issue with the slim variations of aliens/beasts/freaks of nature that film makers usually whip up for these kinds of movies (eg: those bite-sized, three-legged Independence Day knockoffs in the latest War of the Worlds). Now, it probably helps to see it in action, but this is what Bong’s monster looks like, and I gotta say, that’s some new shit. It’s like the ugliest mutant tadpole you’ve never seen, the CG that brings it to life is absolutely fantastic and the ways it interacts with the real-life actors and surroundings on-screen is seamless, like District 9 seamless. Love that it’s actually a pretty smart monster, too.

But the final product as a whole isn’t particularly scary, so I guess it could have improved on the horror front, but since the pacing never lets up whatsoever, the constant intensity, urgency and power more than make up for it. I’m tellin’ ya’, by the time the final showdown took place, I probably would have cheered if someone had been there to join in.

Not long ago, Quentin Tarantino shortlisted this as one of the best movies that’s come out since he started his career, and he is so fucking right. This isn’t the kind of movie The Academy would ever recognize, and that’s freakin’ criminal since this whole cast is just phenomenal and any American writer/director would sacrifice a goat to have this script and team to work with. Then again, when I booted this up, I didn’t think I’d come out of it feeling wholeheartedly that The Host of all things is in fact one of the best movies of the past decade, but I ain’t kiddin’ and I am not surprised in the least that South Korea considers this a national treasure of sorts. It’s so different from anything else Bong has done and it’s so different from anything I’ve ever seen before, yet it’s a culminization of all the reasons he’s one of the best directors out there.

Effing hilarious, effing emotional, effing great anti-government undertone coursing through it and just so much effing fun. A perfect storm of everything that probably shouldn’t work whatsoever, and that right there is a thing of beauty.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2010 7:50 am

    For me, it was the family aspect that was the biggest turnoff. Thought the monster was immense and that the action was all done pretty well (that first chase scene through the riverside was shit-hot). It just seemed to get a bit sentimental towards the end. Still, a great film and totally unforgettable.

    Song Kang-ho is great in pretty much every film he’s touched, definitely worth checking out more of his filmography! (Mr Vengeance, Memories of Murder, The Good/Bad/Weird and Shiri in particular are the tits).

    Also, while you’re on Asia, Can’t remember if you’ve seen A Bittersweet Life but 100% check it out as it’s one of my favourite Korean flicks.

    • October 7, 2010 1:29 pm

      Oh, man. I loved the sentimentality of it, felt so genuine and heartbreaking, man. I loved that family, they kicked ass. Need to see Mr. Vengeance, Good Bad Weird and Shiri (all on my queue), but he was great in Memories of Murder.

      And I remember you mentioning A Bittersweet Life. It’s not even on Netflix though. Any suggestions?

      Also, is your email a reference to The Jerky Boys?

      • October 8, 2010 6:12 am

        I’d suck it up and buy a copy from – you won’t be let down by Bittersweet Life, trust me! And definitely start chomping through more of those Asian titles on ‘flix!

        E-mail address is from a Goldfinger album. Darrins Coconut Ass is the title, but my name’s not Darrin 😦

      • October 13, 2010 11:15 am

        hahaha. might just have to. and believe me, i’m chompin’ through, just baffles me how many movies are on that Instant queue right now.

  2. October 7, 2010 11:48 am

    Probably one of the best monster movies of the last decade.

  3. October 7, 2010 2:30 pm

    Really? I liked the horror/monster elements well enough but I felt that the comedy and emotions were forced and didn’t fit into the film at all. I liked it, but didn’t see what all the rage was about. I still don’t get it.

    • October 7, 2010 7:54 pm

      haha. that’s funny, i felt the complete opposite. first time i saw it, i was in the same boat, but this latest viewing was like a revelation for me. idk, man. right movie at the right time maybe.

      • October 18, 2010 11:43 am

        Hum, maybe I should watch it again then.

      • October 18, 2010 12:37 pm

        Hope you dig it, man. Took me two viewings to get it to a 10, so maybe that counts for something. First viewing was at a 7 or so.

  4. October 7, 2010 2:48 pm

    I recently saw Mother by Joon-ho Bong and,although not without its faults, is definitely worth seeing too. He’s definitely a director to keep an eye on.

    • October 7, 2010 7:55 pm

      Agreed. Mother’s probably his weakest effort yet, but I still really dug it. Great ending and super intense.

  5. October 7, 2010 5:13 pm

    I don’t know. I sort of enjoyed this movie but intermittently, it turned me off at the same time. Here and there, I liked that it didn’t take itself too seriously but then it did. Just those weird and abrupt change of tones I guess. And come on, the seemingly monster who simply dies after getting stabbed in the mouth with a street signs… LOL

    • October 7, 2010 7:35 pm

      Man, I can’t believe I’m in the minority on this one. Starting to feel like a goddamn lunatic giving it a 10. I just really loved those abrupt changes, not only because that’s such a unique vibe that Bong brings to all his movies, but I thought they were both done really well, producing a slight tear one minute and howling laughter the next. I don’t know, might just be me is all.

      • Aini permalink
        October 8, 2010 10:52 am

        Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. My friends who’ve seen this movie claims there weren’t enough monster scenes, the movie wasn’t scary enough, syalala.. But for me, The Host was fantastic! I really love how it was more about the family, not just about the monster. And even though the main plot was about saving the daughter, the movie didn’t have the show-off heroic feel of Hollywood. The family coming together felt like the most natural thing in the world.

        I give it a 9/10.

      • October 13, 2010 11:14 am

        Thank you. You rock. So does the family, and without them, this movie would have been pretty weak.

  6. October 7, 2010 11:38 pm

    Bravo Aiden! I couldn’t agree more! I loved this film! The Host made my top 25 films of the past decade. The family dynamic in THE HOST is something to be celebrated and Song Kang-ho is just amazing. It has some great moments of intensity, a cool monster and it made me laugh, cheer and even choked me up. Watching horror film after horror film as I do, laughing, cheering and getting choked up are emotions I don’t get to experience nearly often enough.

    I just caught the film MONSTERS on the weekend at the Van Film Fest. While The Host and Monsters are VERY different films, they are both giant monster flicks that focus on the characters. MONSTERS is getting great reviews but it just DID NOT do it for me. The characters in Monsters are likeable enough, but I never once felt invested in them the way I did with the characters in The Host. To each his own I guess.

    • October 13, 2010 11:13 am

      Man, took the words right out of my mouth. So glad I’m not the only one who experience this gamut of emotions. Never even heard of Monsters, but I’m interested. Will get back to you on that one.


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