The Host (2006)
By: Devon B. on September 7, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Eastern Eye (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Korean DD 5.1, Korean DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 114 minutes
The Movie
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Hie-bong Byeon, Hae-il Park, Ah-sung Ko
Screenplay: Jun-won Ha, Bong Joon-ho, Chul-hyun Baek
Music: Byung-woo Lee
Country: South Korea
AKA: Gwoemul
The Host has generated a small bit of controversy because it can be interpreted as anti-American. While some leap to the film's defence saying it's just anti-authority, that the Korean government are portrayed in a bad light as well, I think there's a much easier answer. While members of the US government in the film certainly go to extremes to try and cover up their blunders, that's not a huge leap for a writer to make about how the US government might respond in a given situation. What gives the film its anti-American theme is the very beginning, where an American orders a Korean subordinate to drain formaldehyde into the sewer even though it will drain into the nearby Han River. The thing is, that's just what happened, that part of the story is true. Granted, maybe there was a better reason in real life than the bottles being dusty, and so far there's been no monster as a result, but the US government wasn't very cooperative when the Korean government tried to take action against the man responsible. Anyway, doesn't matter, because The Host is mostly about a giant monster running amuck and one family's attempt to deal with that.

As I said, The Host starts with some formaldehyde being dumped indirectly into the Han River. Formaldehyde, a known mutagen, causes one of the river's inhabitants to turn into a giant tadpole lookin' thing…with legs. The monster is revealed very quickly, and our hapless hero attempts to take out the monster with a traffic sign. When the creature makes off with his daughter, he gets understandably quite distressed.

The rest of his family come together, not entirely united in the tragedy. Those in contact with the creature may have been exposed to a virus it was hosting (hence the title), so the Korean and US governments are quarantining them. Things are a bit tense for the family at any rate, but then our hero gets a phone call from his daughter, alive but trapped in the monster's lair in the sewer. The authorities don't believe him, so the family escape and set out to rescue her on their own.

The Host is reminiscent of Aliens, and the hero reminded me of an even less functional Ash from The Evil Dead, but there's a lot going on that's fresh. The film is very stylish and visually engaging, but never too over the top in those regards. The Host melds horror, satire, and a few choice moments of black humour into a mostly entertaining mix. Unfortunately, it pulls some punches at the end and the movie is too long. The film bogs down at about 45 minutes and 70 minutes in; the first time I thought was maybe catching up on exposition because the monster appears in scene two, but the second time there wasn't a handy excuse.

As for the monster, it's generally brought to the screen via decent CG. Aside from some flames near the end of the film, the CG shouldn't cause any cringing, at least, which is the best you can hope for with CG. The monster's design is unique, and its actions often demonstrate the need to respect nature; making The Host a bit like Korea's latest answer to Godzilla. The creature's monkey bar mode of transport is also a lot of fun to watch.

The Host has been over-hyped, but it is a good film, and fans of Asian monster movies should enjoy it.
The Host is presented at 1.85:1 in a 16x9 enhance print, despite the sleeve saying it's 1.78:1. The picture is sharp and clear, allowing the viewer to fully absorb this wonderfully framed and photographed film. There is some clarity lost in darks and things that are overbright, but I think that's due to the print, not the transfer.
Audio is available in Korean 5.1 or 2.0 mixes with optional English subtitles. This is a well mixed track, with nice swirling sounds, and deep rumbles. The monster's sounds are overwhelming in a good way.
Extra Features
Eastern Eye are a great company for fans of Asian cinema, and once again, they don't disappoint on the extras. Disc one has the Korean, US and UK trailers, plus trailers for Shadowless Sword, Jackie Chan's The Myth, Exiled, and Godzilla: Final Wars. Disc two has a making of, The Host in Australia, info on the creature, cast and crew featurettes, deleted scenes, reflections, production stills, concept art, and an animatic gallery. The making of is a series of featurettes that run roughly five to 10 minutes each. The first is just a general making of that talks about the true story that inspired the film, and the inspiration drawn from everyone's favourite Scot, Nessie. There're also featurettes on storyboards; the director; the sewer; the sets; the action, art, props, and make up film departments; special FX and sound FX. The most interesting of these for me was the one on the sewer, discussing what those involved went through to film in the location. Region 4 exclusive extras focus on The Host in Australia: an interview with director Bong Jooh-ho which is overdubbed in English, and his Q & A from the Melbourne premiere. Another series of featurettes, one nearly 20 minutes long, is dedicated to the creature. This section also contains the amusing gag reel – keep a listen for a familiar video game sound making a cameo. Two featurettes about the crew run roughly 20 minutes combined, and Kevin's Korean Life is a featurette about one of the FX guys working in Korea. The characters featurettes are brief looks at the casting tapes, the characters in general, and training of the actors. 23 minutes of deleted scenes are also included, one in German with Korean subs and then English subs over the top, but there is very little additional monster footage. Finally, there's a Saying Goodbye featurette, which is approximately five minutes of people's reflections on the film.
The Verdict
There's a four disc deluxe edition of The Host in Korea, but unless you speak Korean, it probably won't be much use to you, excepting you desperately want a DTS track. The Region 1 DVD includes a commentary not found on the Region 4, so if you love commentaries, that's something to be aware of. For anyone else, this two disc DVD is very good, another winner from the always reliable Eastern Eye label.
Movie Score
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