When I was a kid, my mother would often call me into her room to let me know that a monster movie was on the tele. It could have been one of the many Toho Godzilla flicks, or Gamera or some of the old flicks from way back in the 1950’s like ‘Tarantuala’, or ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’. The movies could range from the truly awful like ‘The Thing with Two Heads’ starring Ray Milland and Rosey Grier to the truly great such as the mutated ant picture ‘THEM’. So me my brother and my little sister would all lay on our mother, who was quite soft and fluffy, and hide our faces and be scared out of wits while eating popcorn while watching this stuff on a 19” Zenith Console.
Times do change however. My saintly mother is no longer with us, though she still used to mail me horror classics she would run across like, ‘Hatchet For a Honeymoon’ which I simply must review one day. Monsters have yielded to horror, which has pretty much yielded to shock. So when Korean Director Joon-Ho Bong’s latest film ‘The Host’ (Gwoemul in its original language) floated across my desk it caught my attention with more than a passing interest.
‘The Host’ turns out to be quite the gem as it is a good, old fashioned, throw back monster movie. We open with legendary American character actor (well, he’s a legend to me anyway) Scott Wilson portraying an Army doctor of sorts with a thing against dust advising his Korean assistant to dispose of some bottles of Formaldehyde. By pouring them down the sink. The assistant balks, but it is a direct order so he proceeds to essentially empty a couple hundred of bottles of probably the most toxic chemical known to man into the Han River.
Some time later never-do-well and terminally sleepy Kang-du (Kang-Ho Song) is watching his sister Nam-Ju (Du-Na Bae) compete in a national archery event on television with his thirteen year old daughter Hyun-seo (Ah-Sung Ko) in father’s snack stand. A bit of a ruckus grabs Kang-du’s attention as there is this odd creature hanging from the bridge over the Han River and it has drawn a crowd. Note that I wouldn’t have been in that crowd, but that’s just me and my unreasonable fear of mutated monsters. Nonetheless eventually this thing jumps from the bridge into the water and then out of the water and starts raining hell on every Korean at the scene. The monster seems to be some kind of mix of… Hell, I don’t know, but it’s mighty ugly, has a long tail, plenty of razor sharp teeth, and it’s the size of an 18-wheeler and ten times stronger. Oh, and it likes the taste of human flesh aplenty.
We are then treated to a fantastic scene of maximum chaos with people running, and screaming and dying all over the place while Kang-du does his best to help. The monster drives them all back towards the river where Kang-du sees his daughter and grabs her hand to keep her safe, but unfortunately when he turns and looks back as he is fleeing in terror the hand of the girl he's holding ain’t his daughter. His daughter is back where he left her and soon swooped up by the monster and taken away, presumably eaten. Kang-du, his sister, his father Hie-bong (Hie-bong Byeon) and his brother Nam-il (Hae-il Park) are all taken into quarantine along with anybody else who came into contact with the creature. Kang-du gets a staticy phone call from his daughter saying that she’s alive and in sewer somewhere in the city. The whole family manages to escape from the hospital and is determined to rescue Hyun-so and hopefully kill the beast in the process.
Have you ever watched a movie and within the first thirty seconds you pretty much convinced yourself ‘I’m gonna like this one’. Well, that’s how it was with ‘The Host’ for me. There was just something special and unique about the opening scenes, the way they were filmed, the look of the cinematography that convinced me that this was a movie I was going to enjoy, and given that, it’s up to Director Joon to try to lose me along the way, and he never came close to doing that. Since this is a monster movie, the most important thing would be what? Why the monster silly. This thing was one of the most perfectly realized CGI creatures I’ve seen in film, from any country with the monster perfectly integrated into scenery. Maybe with the notable exception of some CGI fire at the end, but no spoilers here. And in true monster fashion, the creature has no agenda other than to eat humans, not because he doesn’t like their politics, or that they are polluting the world, but because they are tasty. You see, the Japanese Gojira has no agenda other than to get from end of Japan to the other, as those irritating buildings, toy tanks and electrical wires were just in his way. Contrast that to the American version of Godzilla which they saddled with some kind of ‘motivation’ of saving it’s eggs or what not. Monsters don’t need ‘motivation’, just basic hunger and the need to travel from point A to point B.
While the monster is what matters most in any monster movie, I’d be remiss to not give props to the young acress Ah-sung Ko who does a truly phenomenal job as the child in peril. At one point scared to death, at the next moment heroic, Dakota Fanning has absolutely nothing on this young girl.
The movie doesn’t quite end the way that we westerners like our movies to end, and being a viewer of films from the Pacific Rim, I’ve become somewhat accustomed to that. It’s great in that the films are not typically predictable as almost all western films are, but can be still be a bit of a downer if the filmmakers were effective in creating a connection to the characters for the audience.
A nice mix of shock, humor, horror and sadness, it’s nice to see a good old fashion monster movie that doesn’t involve saws and dismemberment. I think mom might have liked this one.