The Host (Gwoemul)

The Host (2006), a delightful South Korean creature feature, is a bizarre often hilarious dysfunctional family drama of a passionate but clumsy clan of characters who become the Avengers when one of their own is kidnapped by a sea monster lurking in the Han River. An alien story with a big emphasis on family, it’s Little Miss Sunshine (2006) meets Super 8 (2011) in Korea. 

A lower middle class family with issues and few resources, living in a food stand on the banks of the Han River, becomes desperate when their young daughter is taken by an enormous genetically mutated sea monster that emerges from the murky water to feed on picnickers enjoying the hot summer days.

This movie is a fun romp that also happens to be incredibly well done using state of the art special effects that blend seamlessly with the live action.  For a movie that feels like a low budget send up of the Godzilla genre, it’s actually quite a dramatic and engaging film that’s beautifully and inventively photographed.

When little Hyun-seo comes home from school, she sits in front of the TV to watch her aunt compete in a professional target archery tournament. Meanwhile outside her grandfather’s food stand near the river, chaos is ensuing as a mutant sea creature emerges from the river and goes on a rampage in search of a meal. Disturbed by the commotion, she opens the door to find her father and everyone else in the park running for their lives.

This film reminded me in many ways of Attack the Block (2011), which was a low budget alien invasion film shown from the perspective of low income housing block kids that turned out to be much more fun and emotionally engaging than you would expect from an urban alien invasion fantasy for kids. Check out my alien creature film fest 2011 for more films in this genre.

Assuming little Hyun-seo is dead after being taken by the mutant creature, her devastated aunt and uncle reunite with the close knit family for the funeral. But while the military is quarantining the area and everyone who was exposed to the mutant creature, the family gets a call on their cell phone from Hyun-seo, who is still alive in a sewer somewhere under the city. 

Inspired by tales of the Loch Ness Monster, director Bong Joon-ho has created a suspenseful adventure film that’s both funny and creepy. Much of the movie takes place in the massive network of sewers under the streets of Seoul, Korea and towering bridge structures that span the great River Han, making the movie visually reminiscent of Alien 3 (1992), with its subterranean rainy industrial decay.

Unable to get any help from the Korean authorities the family breaks out of quarantine and form a search party to find their young daughter. Meanwhile the creature continues to attack and carry off unsuspecting victims to its lair for later consumption. Now fugitives pursued by the police, the family must battle the creature on their own but first they must find it and hope that it hasn’t eaten Hyun-seo yet.

Korean cinema has been producing internationally acclaimed films that have crossed over to foreign markets since 2002, with such fascinating directors as Kim Ki-duk, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003) and Park Chan-wook, Vengeance trilogy (2002-2005), who has just come out with his first American film; Stoker (2013). 

Since The Host, Bong Joon-ho, has directed the highly acclaimed film, Mother (2009) and will be coming out with a new Sci-fi action drama called Snowpiercer (2013), coming to cinemas this year. Also look for a sequel to The Host, already in the works and scheduled for release next year.

JP

10 comments:

Jon Jefferson said...

One of my favorite memories of Korea comes from the time I was on the subway in Seoul. I wonder how other areas under the city look.

Susan Cooper said...

Being a hugh fan of SciFi and special affect, means I'm hooked and will be making a point to see this movie. I love the story line and it seems that it will be full of action with added humor. You got love that. :-)

JeriWB said...

Not a genre I'm usually drawn to, but looks interesting nonetheless...

Leora said...

I'm wondering if my sons will like this film. They see a lot more movies than I do. But gone are the days when I go with them to the movies.

Morgan Decker said...

I love foreign films, especially oriental ones! They have such an unusual editing and filming style that is so different than our own so they are always interesting to watch. Is it in Netflix?!

MK Slagel said...

I loved your analogy of Little Miss Sunshine meets Super 8. Just from reading that initial description I already want to watch it as I thoroughly enjoy both of those films.

JP said...

The Host is available on Netflix and has also been available on Blu-ray and DVD for some time, and can be rented in video stores.

Rynessa said...

Sounds nice. I'll try to remeber to source it so I can watch it with my little brothers/sister/nieces and nephew. Anything to get them to calm down for a few hours :)

KWade said...

I'm sure that films being made in Asia must have amazing special affects and technology. Was this film in Korean or did it have subtitles? If you speak Korean thats quite impressive!

JP said...

The Host is in Korean with English subtitles.