Sunday, March 18, 2007

MovieWatch: "The Host"

"The Host"
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Fien Print Rating (out of 100): 70
In a Nutshell: "The Host" is so solid and seemingly effortless a piece of popcorn filmmaking that more than a few viewers -- this one in particular -- will walk out of this South Korean monster movie wondering why Hollywood can't seem to master the same craft. Some over-eager fanboys have attempted to hype Bong Joon-ho's latest film as something that transcends its genre, a claim that I don't think I'd make. Why bother? Is there anything so wrong with making an effects-heavy creature feature that manages to mix simple scares with unexpected character humor? It can probably be debated whether "The Host" is the best "Godzilla" movie ever made, but it's most certainly the movie Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich *wanted* to make when they attempted to reboot the giant lizard franchise nearly a decade ago. That "The Host" was made for only $10 million is all the more reason why Hollywood studios should be desperate to bring the director stateside.

Like most good monster movies, "The Host" is peppered with social commentary, aimed pointedly against both the Korean government and the pervasive imperialism of the United States, but none of the satire is over-articulated. Really, the movie is about a giant many-armed creature that lives in Seoul's Han River and takes a particular interest in a dysfunctional family forced to band together to rescue one little schoolgirl. Critic Colin Covert is being blurbed comparing "The Host" to a fusion of "Jaws" and "Little Miss Sunshine," an analogy that I like so much I won't try to top it. I would go so far as to say that "The Host" is a much funnier movie than "Little Miss Sunshine," carried by strong work from stars Song Gang-ho, Park Heui-bong and Bae Du-na [Song also starred in the director's "Memories of Murder," a solidly made rural police procedural.]

The creature -- masterminded by San Francisco's Orphanage FX house -- isn't up to big budget Hollywood standards, but the technology isn't jarringly outmoded either (he looks a bit like the Geico lizard gone feral). I was completely engaged by Lee Byong-woo's score, which has more classic film influences than I can count, and a rumbling and effective (rather than just loud) sound design.

"The Host" is intense, but never gory enough that it becomes unpleasant or uncomfortable to watch and whenever things become too scary or emotional, Bong isn't averse to tossing in a pratfall or mugging character actor to return the focus to the fun.


  1. Anonymous7:48 AM

    "geiko lizard gone feral" -- too funny, and quite apt.

    i'm not enough of a "creature feature" aficionado to know how well this was working within the perameters of the genre. i found the shifts in tone -- from scary to funny -- put me off-balance, never knowing just how close to get to the edge of my seat. tension being deflated with overt humor (mugging for the camera, goofy walk-on characters, prat-falls, &c), are these par for the course? i guess i just wasn't prepared for how much of an explicit comedy this would be. perhaps "creature features," in general, run more toward lite-satire than i had previously understood. the closest american thing i can think of in this vein is "tremors." and, of course, the funniest big, scary, mutant weather picture in recent memory was "the day after tomorrow." hilarious; only, i don't think roland emmerich wanted his audience in stitches. maybe they *should* get this bong joon-ho over here, asap. he could produce something wickedly arch to emerge from our sewers and make up for, say, the latest re-hash of the teenage mutant ninja turtles arriving this summer. (was this necessary?) anyway, "the host" was a funny popcorn movie that aspired to be something slightly more elevated than mindless, wh. is more than i can say for most hollywood pap of this nature. one thing working in the film's favor is the indie-FX house. if the creature had been any more realistic looking or integrated more seemlessly into the frame, i think it wouldn't have worked so well. the creature in this feature was pitch perfect, much of its menace conveyed as much in the subtle low rumblings of sound (that you point out) as by its visual quality.

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