Friday, March 12, 2010

The Host (2006)

Soju has the same effect on people and river monsters.

Some movies have a time and place. The movie is only what it is because you watch it at a certain point in your life, with a certain set of thoughts running through your head. The Host is what it is for me because I currently live in South Korea and I recently spent a recent, drunken, evening throwing rocks at the Han River for no apparent reason. I've seen a lot of foreign films in my time, but this is the first one that I have seen with an actual understanding of the culture that created the movie. The Host, while it's credentials are little better than generic B-movie fare, was a really entertaining way to spend two hours and it was a surprisingly well made film.

The Host is the true story of the monster that lives in the Han River. The evil American military dumped some dirty chemicals into the beautiful, pristine Han River and crazy things started happening. For those of you who can't detect sarcasm, the Han River's cleanliness lies somewhere between the Ganges in India and the Mississippi as it rolls through St. Louis. To be fair, there's enough chemicals in the river to create twelve monsters without U.S. intervention. That's beside the point, the Monster, affectionately called Soju, got drunk one night, like all good Koreans do, and decided to wreck some peoples stuff. In the end it's up to a retard, a drunk and a korean archery champion to defeat the monster and save Seoul from the marginal level of destruction it would cause. The film was a smash hit in Korea and the number one reason why Korean films are better than Western films according to my middle school students. It made a boat load of money in Korea, it's the highest grossing Korean film ever made, and it even made a splash on the international circuit. The film got great reviews world-wide and it seems to be a film that will endure as an underground success in a lot of places.

On the surface, The Host plays like a bad sci-fi channel movie. The special effects are decent, a lot better than expected, but the movie packs a fairly unremarkable premise full of paper thin villains and some silly situations. I also found the monster, mostly it's design, fairly underwhelming. It just didn't seem to do all that much. That said, the movie surprises more than it falters. While the portrayal of all these evil Americans is laughable it's more akin to comedy than serious criticism. The movie itself relies heavily on the physical humor and situational humor that is extremely popular with Korean audiences. While generally I find this low-brow humor annoying, it works really well in The Host. You can buy people falling all over themselves when a giant monster is running after them and the comical sense of mayhem it creates is really fun to watch. I also found the characters relatively interesting and well portrayed. The characters aren't going to really impress you, but they were a lot better than what I was expecting. You also have to give the writer credit for killing characters when they needed to be killed and constantly surprising you with where the movie would go next. More than anything though, The Host is absolutely beautiful to look at. The cinematography here was seriously impressive and that alone pushes the film beyond B-movie status.

It was interesting to watch The Host in the middle of my experiment to watch every movie in the Godzilla series. The rivalry between Japan and Korea is pretty fierce, at least as far as Korea is concerned, so it was fun to compare The Host to the original Godzilla. While the original Godzilla edges it out slightly, The Host is probably a more entertaining movie to watch. The humor may be hard to appreciate if you've never lived in Korea, which I imagine is the vast majority of you, but, for me, the movie was a whole lot of fun. The film is probably too obscure and too Korea focused to be on the list, but it's still a fun watch for fans of monster movies.


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