This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
In perhaps one of the most spurious origin stories for a movie monster yet seen, an American scientist decides that dozens upon dozens of bottles of formaldehyde must be poured down an airbase facility sink into the Han river, because the bottles were dusty. Let us lightly skip over this before our collective brain melts and leaks out of our ears, forming gloopy little puddles on the floor due to the sheer scale of this stupidity. Seemingly this is based on a real incident, although if you think I’m going out of my way to back that up with paperwork you’ve attached your wagon to the wrong horse.
This irresponsible discharge of a lachrymating mutagen not only irritates the eyes of a lot of poor little fishes, it also starts the few-year process of turning one of them into a hulking behemoth that very soon begins the process of biting Seoul on the ass. In the frontline of the biting of the ass are the Park family, who run an ordinarily peaceful, when some Gojira wannabe isn’t stomping around it, food stall on the banks of the Han. The typical store keeper, the amiable albeit bone-idle, dumb-as-a-post Kang-du (Kang-ho Song) and his daughter Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko) are happily slacking off on fine afternoon watching professional archer Nam-ju (Du-na Bae), Kang-du’s sister, much to family patriarch Hie-bong (Hie-bong Byeon)’s annoyance when the huge acrobatic man-eating giant alligator/frog/squid appears, swinging over a bridge, swallowing people and generally causing a ruckus.
In the ensuing chaos, Kang-du sees his daughter whisked away in the grip of the monster who for convenience’s sake I shall call Gwoemul, the film’s title in it’s native South Korea that from what I can gather simply means ‘monster’. Third axis in the second on-screen Park generation, the hard-drinking, somewhat obnoxious loudmouth Nam-il (Hae-il Park) shows up at the hastily arranged refugee cum memorial centre, raging against the machine and Kang-du for failing to protect Hyun-seo just in time for a pratfalling environment suited government lackey to inform them of the quarantine that’s been declared on them due to the deadly virus that Gwoemul appears to be host to. Hence name, I suppose, although be warned that this turns out to be one of several colossal red herrings this film throws at you.
So far, The Host has played rather like a Korean revision of Evolution, with a hopefully intentional air of silly tongue-in-cheek comedy rather than trying to be particularly scary with its creature feature or affecting in its drama, the characters bemoaning the apparent death of Hyun-seo with ludicrously overblown bluster. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, a curveball is dealt out to puzzling effect. After receiving word that Hyun-seo is not in fact dead, merely captive in Gwoemul’s lair, the Parks bust out of their quarantine to rescue her having failed to convince the authorities of what they’ve found out. While this makes them Public Enemy No. 1, the resulting chasing and hunting actually plays more like a sub-par soap opera episode as the family bickers and whines amongst itself.
This turn of events and mood is hardly welcome, so no tears are shed when as abruptly as it came this little departure is discarded, just in time for the climactic, Molotov cocktail soaked finale of man vs. mutated nature. By this point, we seem to be expected to start to take it rather more seriously than preceding events would warrant, although precisely why we’d want to do something like that is a question The Host rather churlishly refuse to answer for us. It’s better, true, but having alternately laughed at and been bored by last two acts there’s no chance of the third one recapturing the dramatic initiative. In short, by the time the credits start rolling you’re left wondering what the hell writer/director Joon-ho Bong was trying to do, let alone whether he achieved it or not.
This is to some extent overcooking the movies effect, as the bad bits aren’t truly terrible, although the good bits are hardly extraordinary. The rationale for it bagging six awards at the Korea Film Awards (picture, director, cinematography, lighting, special effects and sound effects, if you’re interested) somewhat escapes me. Well, the first four at least, as in terms of CG monsters it’s of as good a quality as you’ll see outside of WETA. To bring this shambolic essay to a close, let’s go back to my usual position of fence-sitting and say that The Host isn’t exactly an awful film, but it’s hardly worth any effort in tracking down.