Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Kang-ho Song, Hie-Bong Byeon, Hae-il Park, Du-ne Bae
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Distributed by KD Media
It’s hard to remember an import more hyped than Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, the Korean monster opus that knocked the Cannes Film Festival on its collective ass last year. It’s not often a horror movie garners worldwide attention, and movie geeks have been waiting with bated breath ever since the first images escaped onto the Net. But in the Internet age this kind of buzz can have a negative effect, and already cries of “overrated!” are starting to pop out of the woodwork. Let’s face it; it doesn’t matter how good something is, it can never compete with the public’s preconceived notions. It’s all pretty ironic because if The Host has one thing on its mind, it’s defying expectations.
The story revolves around the loveable losers that make up the Park family. Father Gang-du is a middle-aged slacker who works at a food stand on the banks of the Han River. One afternoon a mutated creature suddenly emerges from the polluted water and makes an impressive rampage through the crowded park. In the midst of the chaos, the beast snatches up daughter Hyun-seo and quickly disappears into the nearby tunnels. Gathering in the aftermath of tragedy, the Park family is stunned when officials announce that the monster is the “host” of an unidentified virus. With Korea in the grips of panic, the American government (bastards that they are) step in to take control with questionable motives, and things quickly turn from bad to worse. Facing opposition on all sides, it’s up to the family to infiltrate the forbidden zone near the Han River to rescue Hyun-seo from the monster’s lair.
Taking a page from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, The Host isn’t so much about a monster but people and how they react to a monster. So if you think little things like character depth and social commentary only serve to get in the way of your gooey creature action, then you might want to give this one a pass. Dimension Films has a nice catalog of mainstream crap for you to enjoy. If, however, you demand more from your horror than jump scares and cookie-cutter formulas, then this one serves up everything you could ever want and then some. Like Bong’s equally impressive Memories of Murder, and Korean films in general, The Host is hybrid filmmaking that mixes every genre ingredient into one giant mind-bending cocktail. The tone constantly shifts from horror to slapstick comedy to family drama, something that may frustrate viewers seeking straight-up thrills, yet still merges into an organic and tremendously entertaining experience. Every moment works because it comes from (and personifies) the Park family and their personal journey from bumbling screw-ups to selfless heroes.
The monster itself is a fully realized cinematic marvel. Most directors would keep the big menace in the shadows until the big finale, but Bong shows the creature in full view attacking dozens of pedestrians in the film’s opening minutes. The big FX scenes, courtesy of the masters at Weta and The Orphanage, serve up some of the most impressive CGI carnage since the T-Rex first stomped across the screen in Jurassic Park. Right from the start it’s obvious Bong & Co. weren’t content to simply throw any old monster up onto the screen, and they’ve clearly put a lot of thought behind their creation: The beast is a fleshy mutated mass, almost Lovecraftian in nature, but moves like a clumsy freak of nature that’s desperately trying to adapt in a populated environment. Combined with the sweeping cinematography, The Host is one of the most visually breathtaking movies you’ll find in any genre.
For you region-free DVD-philes out there, the film has received the mother of all treatments in the new 4-disc Korean limited edition set. This is a release on the same level as the Lord of the Rings extended versions with extras that detail every faucet of production. Of course, being a foreign release, it carries the inevitable drawback: the lack of English subtitles. Nevertheless, there are plenty of visually oriented special features (as well as some English-speaking sections) that make it well worth picking up.
Disc One is the feature, which looks and sounds pristine on the DTS transfer, and the English subtitles are well translated throughout (there’s also a cast/crew commentary for those fluent in Korean). Disc Two is dedicated entirely to the creation of the monster. We see every conceptual drawing and variation of the creature along with the immense process of sculpting, detailing, and rendering it into the film. All of these extras are pretty amazing, and the interviews with the American FX artists offer a lot of insight into the complex visualization of the beast. There are also side-by-side comparisons of every big effects scene, showing the process from animatics to final product.
Disc Three kicks off with a deleted scenes reel, which is divided into “drama” and “creature” sections. They amount to little more than snipped inserts, but there are some gorgeous creature moments, including a Sergio Leone style face-off between Daddy Park and the monster. Also included are “Making of The Host” and “My Apology from Bong” (?!) featurettes. If that weren’t enough, there’s a section dedicated to the film’s publicity tour with a look at the Korean, Japanese, and Cannes premieres, plus an interview with snooty English film critic Tony Rayns (who displays a condescending attitude towards genre movies). There are even galleries of virtually every worldwide poster and magazine article on the film. Talk about covering your bases!
But the jewel of the set is the inclusion of Bong Joon-ho’s short “Sink & Rise” (with glorious English subtitles!), a 5-minute film produced as part of an alumni series for the Korean Academy of Film Arts. Set by the Han River at a familiar food stand, this whimsical little comedy showcases Bong’s talent for offbeat humor and delivers a punch line that sets up the events of The Host. The fourth disc is the full-length soundtrack featuring Lee Byung-woo’s wonderfully evocative score. It all comes packaged in the sexiest box imaginable, along with two full booklets: the film’s shooting script (for those who can read it) and all the storyboards (for the rest of us). The whole package will run you somewhere in the $50-70 price range, but if you’re a fan, this is one of the best collector’s items you’ll find on the worldwide DVD market. If there’s any justice in the world, we’ll see each and every one of these features subbed and imported onto a future R1 edition.
Whether or not you agree with the hyperbole, The Host is a rare film that deserves to be celebrated. This is a movie lover’s movie – a blistering monster epic, a humorous satire, and a moving drama all rolled into one. You can’t ask for anything more.
Director and Actor’s Commentary
From Cartoon to Screen : Monster
Living in Korea
Commentary with Monster Image
Gallery of Monster
Memories of Drain
Bonmg Tae-II’s Collection
Hard days of Actors
Other Actors and Directors in Location
The Most Hopeless Scenes
Quick Supplement 2
Deleted Scenes with Director’s Commentary
Voice of Monster: Oh Dal-Soo’s Recording, Live Tone
My Apology – from Director Bong
Music of Han River:
Quick Supplement 3
Sound Track CD
5 out of 5
4-1/2 out of 5 (for the lack of English subs)
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