© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
SONG Kang-ho and Ko A-sung
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

THE HOST (GWOEMUL) is a terrific popcorn
movie that set box-office records in South
Korea. It contains equal parts humor, horror
enjoyable "creature" movie that also contains
an underlying environmental message.

The film takes its jumping off point from a
fact-based incident in recent South Korean
THE HOST opens with an American
scientist (Scott Wilson) demanding of a Korean
underling that he dump containers of harsh
chemicals down the drain. Reluctantly the
assistant does so. The drainage runs off into
the Han River and in the movie version within a
few years an odd creature is spotted swimming
around. A few more years pass and that
creature has grown into a mutant fish with
prehensile tails and a shark-like mouth. It also
has the ability to come ashore and wreak havoc.

Which is exactly what happens one idyllic
afternoon. The creature is first glimpsed
hanging off a bridge and then suddenly comes
ashore and begins to chase sunbathers and
picnickers. As it is chased off, the creature
grabs a young girl named Hyun-seo (Ko A-sung)
in one of its tails and disappears into its lair
beneath the sea. The girl's dysfunctional
relatives, including her grandfather (Byeon
Heui-bong), her somewhat lazy dad (Song
Gang-ho), her unemployed uncle (Park Hae-il)
and her archery champion aunt (Bae Dun-na),
must overcome their grief and their differences,
band together and try to save not only the
youngster but the world.

The creature isn't nearly as terrifying as some
other film monsters but that may be the point.
I think it's merely meant to be a metaphor for
several problems facing not only South Korea
but the world at large.
THE HOST makes the
point that the creature is believed to be
carrying a deadly virus which leads to anyone
who has been exposed to be quarantined,
including the members of the young girl's
family. The political subtext of the movie isn't
as well defined as the familial relationships and
sometimes comes across as more heavy-handed
than necessary.

Where director Bong Joon-ho excels is in mining
the interplay within the family. He and his
co-writers (Ha Jun-weon and Baek Cheol-hyeon)
also manage to give each family member
(including the child) a storyline that allows the
actors to shine.

The inevitable showdown between the family
members and the creature contains both
surprises and predictable events. After it
becomes clear that the monster has killed an
American serviceman, the US government
decides to intervene and spray a chemical
known as Agent Yellow in order to kill it. (Any
and all resemblance to the use of an herbicide
known as Agent Orange is undoubtedly not
coincidental, especially given the opening
sequence.) That Americans come off as
somewhat villainous -- the cause and the
destruction of said creature -- is something that
might give US audiences pause -- that is, if
they stop to think about what unfolds on
screen. Clearly, Bong Joon-ho is raising issues
of the spectre of chemical warfare and its
devastating results. It is definitely something
audiences might want to chew over.

As a pure monster flick, though,
entertaining in a B-movie manner. That it also
functions as an allegory for the destruction of
the world is perhaps a bit heavy-handed, but
perhaps worth considering.   

Rating:                B        
MPAA Rating:        None
Running time:       119 mins.