Sometime during the middle of 2006, the area I live in experienced horrendous flooding and I ended up on unemployment for the remainder of the summer. During my long "vacation" I began hearing some buzz about a new Korean monster flick called The Host, that was supposedly very good. Then without warning, the film dropped off the radar of most online news sites, until late last year when it was announced that The Host was getting a U.S. theatrical release! (The film is currently slated for a March 9th limited release in the States for those that are interested.) As the days passed I began reading up on the film and watched any available movie clips and trailers that I could find.
Nearly all of the reviews I read about The Host praised it on multiple levels, and the creature just looked so damned cool! How could I possibly wait until March to see this critically acclaimed film?! The truth is, I didn’t. Yours truly went on eBay and eventually discovered a Region 0 DVD of the film. About a week after Christmas, the movie came in the mail and it went right into the DVD player. What followed was two hours of bliss, and a change of heart regarding the talent and abilities of (South) Korean film makers. Before the rise of The Host (known as Gwoemul in its home country), Korea’s list of kaiju films is pretty sad, and includes the likes of Yongary: Monster of the Deep (1967), A*P*E* (1976), Pulgasari (1986 – from North Korea), and Yonggary (1999). Each of them all boasted sub-par storylines, acting, and special effects, which is why The Host was such a huge surprise. (Note: As terrible as the films mentioned are, I own them all and love them dearly!)
The film begins with an event that will create a chain-reaction within Korea’s Han River. A downright rude, egotistical, (and presumably evil) mortician (based on one Albert McFarland. Read more here.) has gallons upon gallons of formaldehyde dumped into a drain that leads to the Han River. Over the course of four years, the pollution caused by this action results in the birth of a very large and very hungry amphibious predator that quickly makes its presence known. Within ten minutes of the opening credits, the film’s antagonist arrives in broad daylight and begins snacking on anyone in its path. (I should note that the first victim is a fat guy that’s trying like hell to run away.) During this attack, the beast eats its fill and also carries off a young girl named Hyun-seo, the daughter of a borderline retard named Kang-du, one of the main heroes of the film.
The loss of Hyun-seo brings her dysfunctional family together, and soon Kang-du, his brother Nam-il (an unemployed college grad), his sister Nam-ju (an Olympic gold-medal worthy archer), and their aging father, Hie-bong, form a pact to destroy the monster and save poor Hyan-seo. But their task won’t be an easy one because the family is wanted for being "hosts" to a strange disease that’s allegedly carried by the monster. So not only do they have to find the creature’s lair, kill it, and save Hyun-seo, but they also have to dodge misguided Korean and American authorities in the process! The film eventually boils down to an extremely fitting climax that provides some shocks and sorrow, but I’ll stop right there because I refuse to spoil any more of this fantastic movie!
The Host is hands down, the best Korean film I’ve ever seen and is furthermore, the best Korean kaiju film ever made. The film is a wonderful blend of thrills, action, comedy, drama, and tragedy and is a treat to watch from start to finish. The cast of characters is quirky and likeable (especially poor Kang-du), the monster is very cool, the effects are well above par, and…. gosh, this movie is damned near perfect! And I’m not the only one that thinks so either! The Host has broken box office records in its home country, has actually received praise (for its bit of America bashing) from North Korean press, and has performed well in international theatrical runs and film festivals! When this bad boy hits (limited) theaters this March, you owe it to yourself to check it out. I hope I’m not hyping this movie up too much, but I can’t help it! I love it!
Now, if you’re like me and can’t wait until March, then surf the web and seek out the film on DVD. (EBay is probably your best bet.) The Region 0 DVD that I purchased on the web was of the highest quality and featured a beautiful, clean print of the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, along with fantastic Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Though the disc is bare bones to the extreme, it did come packaged in a beautiful cardboard slip case, boasts some nifty animated menus, and (best of all) has decent English subtitles! (I was dumbfounded, and pleasantly surprised, to find that the subtitles weren’t comprised of poor translations and/or broken English.) All in all, this disc was a good buy and allowed me to see one of the most talked about foreign films of all time. So this March, keep an eye out for The Host… "It is lurking behind you."