THE 28: #27, THE HOST (2007)
Kang-ho Song: Park Gang-Doo
Hee-Bong Byun: Park Hie-Bong
Hae-il Park: Park Nam-il
Doona Bae: Park Nam-Joo
Ah-sung Ko: Park Hyun-seo
Screenplay by: Joon-ho Bong & Won-jun Ha & Chul-hun Baek
Directed by: Joon-ho Bong
THE HOST begins the way all the memorable Asian monster pictures do. Some shady dude (usually a corporate or military grunt operating under orders) dumps toxic waste and it spawns a mutated creature. Here, we have an American mortician instructing his Korean assistant to release dozens of old bottles of "dirty formaldehyde" into the Han River in Seoul. This is how we get monsters, boys and girls, by not taking care of the environment.
Sure enough, a giant mutated creature is formed and terrorizes a waterfront park in a dazzling sequence. The monster chases fleeing citizens and destroys property and, while this may sound routine for this kind of movie, the set piece is photographed and edited with skill and flair. A little girl is captured by the monster. She is the adored youngest member of the Park family, who is a dysfunctional group led by a snack shop owning patriarch. The girl's name is Hyun-seo and she's pretty strong and resourceful. Her abduction serves as the launching point for a movie that is part political satire, part family comedy, and part flat out horror. The Parks work tirelessly with the Korean government to find their daughter and fight this creature. The government is worried about an international incident with America. As these things go, the family takes matters into their own hands. After all, at the end of the day, finding a little girl trapped in a sewer by a mutant is the most important goal.
And the monster is a creation of marvelous design. Amphibious, covered in a greenish skin, the beast is frog-like hind legs and webbed feet. Its mouth easily qualifies as vagina dentata (look it up) and contains extra jaws. It uses its tail as a means of traversing about like a vine in the jungle. The first appearance of the monster is a sublime little moment where it hangs bat-like under the bridge.
This is all told with style and energy. The movie never loses sight of the Parks' humanity amidst all the monster hunting, political satire, men in hazmat suits, and whatnot. Movies like this can be entertaining in their own right and work as escapist entertainment. What elevates THE HOST above standard monster fare (which I adore) and places it on a par with such works as ALIEN is its sense of style, its ability to bounce from frenetic action to poignancy, and its tremendous affection for the Parks.