Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Host

I want to hug Korea. There are a couple of reasons for this uncharacteristic burst of touchy-feelyness, but today I specifically want to wrap my arms around them and squeeze because of The Host.

The Host is one of the two or three best monster movies of the past decade, maybe longer. The only thing I’ve seen recently that compares is Black Sheep, and no I don’t mean the Chris Farley/David Spade crapfest, so don’t even think that question.

Like a godsend, it doesn’t fall into the trap of relying too heavily on CGI. They use it when they must, but it isn’t a crutch. The Weta Workshop (who also did Black Sheep, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and pretty much everything else Peter Jackson has ever done) creature looks great, and is even fully visible for long stretches of time in the broad daylight, and still looks awesome. Was anyone else unfortunate enough to see I am Legend, and those atrocious CGI whatever the fuck they were supposed to be creatures? Yuck.

The movie starts off in 2000, where an American military scientist of some sort orders his reluctant Korean assistant to dump like a thousand bottles of a weird formaldehyde concoction down the drain, directly into the Han River. This is based on a real incident, and the first of many comments on America’s unwelcome intrusions and influence around the world, and their lack of concern for the locals. Over a period of years, there are sightings of something strange in the river, beginning with a cup sized amphibious mutant two fishermen stumble across then lose, and the looming shape a suicidal businessman sees in the water he is about to jump into a few years later.

In the present we meet the Park family. Father, Park Hee-bong (Byeon Hie-bong), owns a food stand on the banks of the Han River. His oldest child, the slow-witted son, Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho), helps him run it in between naps. Gang-du has a spunky thirteen year old daughter, Hyun-seo (Ko Ah-sung), an Olympic caliber archer sister with a tendency towards indecisiveness, Nam-joo (Bae Du-na), and an alcoholic, unemployed, ex-activist brother, Nam-il (Park Hae-il).

While delivering a meal to some douche on a blanket that cares that his barbequed squid has the proper amount of legs, Gang-du and rest of the shoreline crowd spy something hanging from the bottom of the nearby bridge. It drops into the water, and then all sorts of hell breaks loose. The creature, now all growed up to full-sized pick-up truck stature, bursts out of the water and proceeds to chase, devour, and generally wreak all sorts of havoc in one of the best scenes ever put to film. Gang-du and a US military man are the only ones who put up a fight, rescuing a trailer full of trapped fish-bait, and clubbing the damn thing over the head a couple of times with a street sign. It just goes to show that not all Americans are total shitbags. As the creature retreats, it grabs Hyun-seo and swims off, much to Gang-du’s fatherly dismay.

After the attack, the entire family is in shock, and everyone who had any contact with the creature is put in quarantine. The American doctors insist there is some sort of mystery virus, that may or may not exist, transmitted by the creature. It is mostly their excuse to unleash a wave of “Agent Yellow,” a new chemical designed to combat biological weapons. I wonder where they got the idea for that one. While in isolation, Gang-du gets a call from Hyun-seo’s weak ass cell phone. It turns out she has been regurgitated in some mystery sewer with a bunch of corpses to be eaten at some later date, but the battery on her phone dies before they can figure out where. Of course the authorities don’t believe this bat-shit crazy story from an emotionally distraught father who just exchanged fisticuffs with a giant monster. The remainder of the movie is the family dealing with asinine bureaucracy and corruption, escaping confinement, battling a giant mutant fish thing, and their own individual shortcomings, in order to rescue Hyun-seo, who, at thirteen, seems to be the only one in the family who really has her shit together.

The Host does everything a monster movie should do in my opinion, and it does all of it well. Beyond the monster actually looking good and rampaging across the screen causing a ruckus on a regular basis, it manages to be funny as shit, almost tearfully dramatic, and carry a serious political undertone as well.

Director Bong Joon-ho, who co-wrote the script with Baek Chul-hyun, isn’t afraid to kill off a main character, even an adorable child, poke at self-righteous student demonstrators, or shy away from calling out the government, both foreign and domestic, on their bullshit.

Go Korea, for today at least, you have managed to maintain my faith in monster movies.

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