The Host (Korea, director Bong Joon-ho): A huge box office hit in Korea, The Host is a good old-fashioned monster movie, and a lot more. The director introduced the screening by saying that the film isn’t really a monster movie at all, but an emotional Korean family drama, and he’s right, mostly.
The family in question is a strange one. There are no mothers and no spouses, just a grandfather, his three unmarried children, and the daughter of his eldest son, whose mother abandoned her shortly after she was born. The grandfather and eldest son run a food stand next to the Han River, and one day, a gigantic lizard-like monster emerges from the water and attacks the people picnicking along the riverbanks. In the process, 13-year-old Hyun-seo is carried off before the horrified eyes of her father Kang-du. The family grieves together in the hospital to where they’ve all been quarantined until Kang-du receives a staticky cell-phone call from his daughter, who is alive and begging him to come and rescue her from the monster’s lair, somewhere in the sewer system.
The reason for the quarantine is that the government believes the monster is carrying some sort of virus and are trying to limit exposure to the rest of the city. The problem is that they’ve called back all the troops that they’d first sent to capture the monster, and now it falls to this dysfunctional family to find their child. After breaking out of the hospital, the whole group embarks on a search and rescue mission armed only with a couple of rifles and sister Nam-ju’s bow (she’s a bronze medal-winning archer). They’re all ineffectual in unique ways. While Nam-ju (Bae Doo-Na, so great in last year’s Linda Linda Linda) is an excellent archer, she’s slow to take aim, which cost her the gold medal. Brother Nam-il is a university graduate who can’t find work, so he’s turned to booze. And Kang-du is just generally lazy and a bit dim-witted.
There is quite a bit of humour in the way the family members interact, as well as a fair bit of social and political satire at the expense of both the Korean and U.S. governments (the Americans are blamed for dumping toxic waste that created the monster in the first place). This was amusing, though pretty heavy-handed.
The cinematography made use of lots of rain and cloudy skies to convey the claustrophobic feeling of the sewers even when we weren’t actually there. In fact, the only sunny skies in the film occur just before the monster’s first appearance.
While I did find the film enjoyable, I felt it ran a bit long, and stretched credibility a few times too many. It’s a monster movie, after all, so maybe I shouldn’t have had such high expectations. The effects are well-done and it was certainly fun to watch, but it’s not an art film by any stretch of the imagination. The theme seemed to be that even dysfunctional families are still families, and that we need to take care of each other and not expect our governments to protect or rescue us.