4.0, Korea

The Host

2006 / Bong Joon-ho > Much like Cloverfield is an episode of The O.C. with a monster in it, The Host is effectively a family dramedy with a monster in it. The difference between the two, thankfully, is that there is no Marissa Cooper. (If you want to throw in the fact that there are also no backstabbing stepmothers, drunk biological mothers and workaholic adopted mothers, that’s also positive, but there is one bad ass archer sister you must yield for.)

Coming on the back of Bong’s Memories of Murder, which I believe in some ways is objectively the finest Korean film of the decade, The Host’s US$11 million budget was daunting and created enough hype in itself to make people curious what was in tow (especially after Kwak Kyung-taek’s miserable failure with Typhoon’s US$15 million budget). It didn’t disappoint. Featuring a strong cast of Memories of Murder’s Song Kang-ho, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’s Bae Doo-na (the bad ass archer sister) and Rules of Dating’s Paek Hae-il, the film brought forth much praise from its premiere at Cannes. How?

It goes back to the premise of being a family dramedy with a monster in it. This, in itself, creates a plot that isn’t dependent on the monster, which, much like special effects, should sometimes be a device to further character development and storyline rather than be the focus. Along the way, Bong makes some social commentary on pollution and the American occupation (arguably the movie’s weakest points), but tries his best not to forget about the little girl who’s sharing the sewer with the monster itself. And the family that pulls together to save her.

The special effects are adequate and not distractive enough to bring into question its quality. The casting/acting is spot on, with every character equally contributing to the problems and solutions (which is key, since family is about sharing). The pacing is just right, the script is often hilarious (such as the brilliant funeral scene), and the resolution works in a manner that satiates viewers without insulting them. And so lamentably, I’ve haven’t seen Korean cinema of this caliber since first catching this at the 2006 New York Film Festival.