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The Host (Gwoemul)
Directed by Joon-ho Bong
Written by Chul-hyun Baek, Joon-ho Bong, Won-jun Ha

The Host (Gwoemul)
Principal Cast
Kang-ho Song -- Park Gang-Du
Hie-bong Byeon -- Park Hie-bong
Hae-il Park -- Park Nam-il
Du-na Bae -- Park Nam-Joo
Ah-sung Ko -- Park Hyun-seo
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Klaw

I first experienced a Korean monster movie with the 1976 A*P*E. Alternatively known as Attack of the Giant Horny Gorilla, this farce featured a man in an ape suit portraying a 36-foot gorilla who, in the film's most memorable scene, battles a giant plastic great white shark. While not without flaws, thankfully The Host surpasses A*P*E* in every measurable way.

Structured like a 50s American monster movie, The Host opens on a United States military base in Korea as an American doctor orders his Korean assistant to dump toxic chemicals down a sink drain that leads directly to Seoul's Han River. Several years later two fisherman discover a mutated fish.

Two years after that, Park Hee-bong, charmingly portrayed by Byun Hee-bong, manages a small snack bar along the banks of the Han River. He lives with his two sons Nam-il and Gang-du; his archery medalist daughter Nam-joo, and his granddaughter, Gang-du's daughter Hyun-seo. An immature forty something, Gang-du, expertly envisioned by Song Gang-ho, displays no discernible skills beyond screwing things up and supplying comic relief. Nam-il, an unemployed university graduate, complains bitterly but accomplishes nothing. The meticulous Nam-joo fails to win a gold medal, settling for a bronze, thanks in part to her lack of confidence. The young Hyun-seo, played by Bae Du-na, represents the rational and competent in this dysfunctional multi-generational family. The appearance of the giant mutated fish turns the family's life upside down. After rampaging and killing Seoulites, the monster disappears, taking Hyun-Seo. The crisis forces, the siblings to move beyond their own inadequacies and eventually to bond as cohesive unit in an attempt to find and save the girl.

More than a mere monster movie, The Host presents a mirror, albeit slightly askew, vision of the consensus reality. The film's title of the film derives from a disease that the creature carries. Seemingly inspired by the Asian governments' response to the SARS outbreaks, director and co-screenwriter Joon-ho Bong transforms Seoul into a city under siege; populace terrorized and imprisoned by its own fears. Mis- and dis-information is rampant. The Korean government hunts and inters individuals exposed to the virus, many of whom end up in the hands of the United States military and their evil scientists.

The Koreans, through the insistence of the US government, plan to use the dreaded biological weapon Agent Yellow, which has the potential to kill all living things within 10 km of detonation, against the monster. Beyond the obvious homage to the original Godzilla, the protesters and the government response appear eerily similar to the recent spate of worldwide anti-war, anti-American demonstrations.

Not surprisingly for a monster conceived by the Weta Workshop, the creature -- a 30 foot long, 15 foot high fish-like monstrosity with anglerfish teeth -- slithers effortlessly across the screen, both in and out of the water. Unlike other medium to low budget films, the monster actually exhibits realistic motion and is not always in the center of the screen. Plus, Bong uses the creature to create chilling effective scenes of real terror and shock.

Though on its surface just another attempt at a quasi-comedic horror film, the movie offers interesting insights into the workings of South Korean society. At times satirical and humorous, the nature and importance of family lay at the heart of The Host. These attributes, along with an intelligent script and impressive effects, elevate The Host far above the majority of its monster film brethren.

Copyright © 2007 Rick Klaw

When not trying to find new ways to work apes into everything he writes, regular SF Site contributor Rick Klaw pens reviews and features for The Austin Chronicle, Moving Pictures Magazine, RevolutionSF, and many other venues. A collection of his works, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century was published by Monkeybrain Books. It has an amazing gorilla gumshoe, created by World Fantasy Award-winning and Hugo-nominated artist John Picacio, on the cover.

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