A review of “The Host” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for excessive gore

Run Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes. In Korean with English subtitles

 

 

 Korean cinema, both North and South, has long been a personal favorite, blessed as it is with a caustic edge and tongue-in-cheek humor that belies its countries’ tetchy politics.

“Host” is straight from the annals of Japan’s ‘50s horror classics, a B-grade creature-feature that does far more than go bump in the night.

The pandemonium begins as pandemonium does, on a lazy day of sunshine and goodwill. Dim-witted single dad Gang-Du (Song Kang-Ho) is working his father’s makeshift food stand when he spies crowds of rubber-neckers anxiously gathering on the banks of the Han River. Suddenly an enormous amphibious creature rises from the water and begins to attack the frantic masses.

Gang-Du and his middle-school age daughter Hyun-Seo (Ko A-Sung) join the fleeing flock but the slimy thing snatches Hyun-Seo with a flick of its tail and disappears back into the murky depths of the Han. Gang-Du fears the worst but finally receives a scratchy cell-phone call from Hyun-Seo who claims to be trapped by the creature in Seoul’s labyrinth sewer system.

Thus begins an oddly compelling journey that pits Hyun-Seo’s shell-shocked family against the slimy monstrosity known as The Host, for its scientific connection to a deadly virus.

The Park family single-mindedly bands together to rescue Hyun-Seo, utilizing their individual strengths -- Olympic archer, computer whiz -- in a low-tech battle against evil.

 

 Director Bong Joon-Ho’s world isn’t all monster madness. His colorful dissection of the fiendish creature genre manages to touch on a number of contemporary themes; the very real fear of a viral plague (think SARS), rampant paranoia inherent in national disaster, a bit of social satire and the deep bonds of a family caught up in crisis.

The action is pure high camp, a madcap mix of fear and humor that hits a few slap-sticky skids along the way. The effects are uber-cool, in particular breathtaking shots of the slithery creature hanging off the Han River Bridge and swinging itself into its watery lair.

A good time at the movies no matter how you cut it.