Recent East Asian Cinema #1: The Host.

Welcome to the first of seven posts that will detail East Asian cinema, giving genre history leading up to a recent movie which will be reviewed! I hope you enjoy the series. For more information, check here.


Monster Movie.

History: Monster movies are those in which something non-human (and usually huge) terrorizes a town/city. The oldest monster movies began with such human-esque creatures as Dracula, Nosferatu, or Frankenstein. However, one of the first examples of the modern-day view of a monster movie was King Kong in 1933. The genre began to expand until The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms came out in 1953. This movie was about a dinosaur that was awakened from a frozen block of ice after an atomic bomb test. Sound familiar? It should. It inspired the Japanese film, Godzilla (Gojira) in 1954. It also inspired numerous other works, such as Rodan and Mothra, which would inevitably spin off into one of Godzilla’s numerous ‘versus’ movies. The Godzilla movies ended up having their own spin-off series, Gamera, in 1965. It would go to rival the Godzilla movies. The genre itself would wear itself out, mostly because of these endless Godzilla-type movies with cheesy dubbing and bad acting and similar plots every round.

In the 80s and 90s, the monster movie even tried a different approach to bring back the monster movie with comedy, such as with the Tremors movies. But then Peter Jackson tried to revive the genre from the beginning with his remake of King Kong in 2005. 2006, however, would be the year to jumpstart the monster movie back to its prime. It was the year that South Korea made the widely-praised movie The Host, which is the movie I am going to discuss in further detail now.

The Host (2006).

Country of Origin: South Korea

Original Title: Gwoemul

Director: Joon-Ho Bong

The Host is interesting in its portrayal of the monster movie, because it focuses more on the people than the monster. The Host is about a poor family that works at an old food stand, including slacker Gang-Du (Kang-ho Song), his daughter Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko), and his father Hie-bong (Hie-bong Byeon). The family later comes to include Gang-Du’s archery-loving sister Nam-Joo (Du-na Bae) and grumpy brother Nam-il (Hae-il Park). After a whole load of formaldehyde is poured down the drain to mix into the Han River, a mutated monster forms. Years later, it exits the water and starts killing/eating people. But when Hyun-seo is taken by the monster and supposedly killed and/or eaten, the family goes into a large depression (especially her father, Gang-Du). To make matters worse, it seems that anybody who had come into contact with the monster might have some crazy lethal virus, putting Gang-Du and his family into quarantine. While in quarantine, Gang-Du gets a phone call… from Hyun-seo. Apparently she’s still alive and in a sewer-like place somewhere. So now the family must escape quarantine and do whatever it takes to find Hyun-seo before it’s too late.

For me, the movie started off okay. There were some things that didn’t really blow my shirt up, to use the expression. For instance, some of the more dramatic or sad scenes came off as over-the-top and unintentionally funny (like the mourning of Hyun-seo near the beginning). I mean, at least I don’t think they would want a scene like that to be funny. But as the movie went on and they had to escape quarantine and travel the city, it started getting better. By the time the movie reached its climax, I was really into it.

But then it started to irk me again, and I don’t mean the overly depressing ending. I mean, the whole movie, the monster looks pretty awesome. The special effects were really good. But then when the fire stuff starts happening toward the end, both the fire and the monster suddenly look obviously fake and took me out of the moment… making me wonder if the production company just started running out of money or what. I mean, they can make a super-cool monster, but they can’t make fire? Or, worse yet, a monster and fire at the same time?

There were also a few characters that weren’t really expanded on and I guess were just there for one specific purpose. For instance, Nam-Joo only seemed to be there for the archery thing (she barely even had a speaking line), and the homeless kids’ subplot was probably only added to give the movie some semblance of a happy ending.

I got confused at first, as well, as to who was who in the family. It took me a while to realize that Gang-Du was Hyun-seo’s father, because he seemed to be like… 18 or 19 years old (I think it was the hair), and Hyun-seo was like… 12 or so.

All of the negatives aside, the story was really good and reminded me somewhat of Cloverfield (because I saw Cloverfield first, even though this one came out first). The acting was pretty good, for the most part, especially by Hyun-seo’s actress. I know I mentioned quite a few negative aspects, but I really did enjoy this movie quite a bit. There were some really tense moments, some really (intentionally) funny moments, a few really sad moments… it was all around the board. There was good character development, specifically with Gang-Du. I don’t know what else to say about it. It has its flaws, but it’s a really good monster movie.

A Keanu 'Whoa'

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