Monday, December 6, 2010

Asian Horror Week: The Host (2006, Korea)

Hell yeah! Asian horror is not just creepy dead girls with long black hair. They do creature features, too, and this one, The Host, was AWESOME.

Synopsis is just a fancy word for plot: After some idiot dumps bottles and bottles of formaldehyde down the sink, it gets into the Han River and causes a freaky mutation. After a few years, an enormous mutated fish with legs starts wreaking havoc near the river. A young girl is taken by the monster, but when she calls one night, her family realizes she is not dead like the authorities believe and they escape capture by the government to try to save her.

Mixing elements found in classic creature features, comedy, and even a little drama, The Host is a highly entertaining flick from the folks in South Korea. The tongue-in-cheek humor lightens the mood that usually surrounds monster movies while the drama of the family's attempts to rescue their youngest member keep the tension high. 

The first time we ever see the monster is right at the beginning, as it spectacularly rampages a crowd of people enjoying a day by the river. This is when the girl, Hyun-seo, is captured and taken to the monster's lair under a bridge. Hyun-seo's father, Gang-du, who is at first presented to us as kind of a deadbeat, is one of the people to fight the monster as it knocks people down, throws them into the river, and munches on whoever gets in its way. There's a great part where a group of people run into a trailer of some sort and the creature rushes in after them, and you see people's bloody hands trying to get out of the chained door as the trailer rocks and screams are heard.

Hyun-seo's family is pursued by the government through most of the movie because the creature is believed to be the host of a deadly virus that infects those that come in contact with the creature. And it is strange that that seems to be the government's main concern rather than trying to kill the creature itself. The guys in yellow spacesuits take people hostage and do tests and junk on them, but the government or military is never once shown as trying to locate and/or eradicate the monster. Instead, it is a group of civilians, including a chick with kick ass archery skills, who brings the beast down. So I see that when it comes to biological disasters, the US government is not the only one that sucks at dealing with such situations.

The actors playing Hyun-seo, her father Gang-du, and her grandfather, aunt, and uncle all do a great job in their roles at both the comedy and the occasional drama. I'm not sure which one of these emotions the director was going for in the scene where all the family members go apeshit crying at the thought of Hyun-seo being dead but it's still a nice scene to watch. The news people taking pictures of the grieving family is perhaps one of the film's political commentaries - which also includes the bitter feelings about the US military presence in Korea.

The creature effects are very well executed with intricate detail work on its body and movements. You can hardly tell the CG when it is engulfing a body into its mouth or doing acrobat-like moves underneath the city's bridges. The effects only waiver at the film's conclusion when the family manages to kill the creature. It is set on CG fire, and CG fire just never really looks right in any movie. They can make huge fish monster creatures look real, but for some reason fake fire always looks hokey and too obviously computer-generated.

There are some great moments dealing with the monster. Some of my favorites include a part where the creature returns to the lair where he stashes his bodies for future snacking (the lair is a dark, deep concrete tunnel) and he stands over the edge and regurgitates a slew of human bones into the tunnel. Another part is where Hyun-seo and another survivor boy has made a rope out of clothes to escape the tunnel, but it's too high for her to reach. When the creature is asleep in the tunnel, Hyun-seo runs up its back to reach the rope, but before she can climb up, the creature grabs her with its tentacles and gently sets her back on the ground. Guess he doesn't want his little pet to escape.

The Host is rather long for a monster movie, at almost two hours exactly, and while it starts off with a bang, it slows down a lot when the family gets separated. It is unclear how much time has passed since the monster made its first appearance and it probably would have helped the film more if the action was sped up. But in the same light, the scenes dealing with each family member trying to evade capture and still trying to find Hyun-seo are still interesting. Gang-du is experimented on by the government with huge needles in the collar bone and what looks like a drill to the head. Yeesh. 

The film was an international success and at the time was South Korea's highest grossing film ever. It was nominated for and won several film festival awards and made many critic's top 10 lists for 2006. I never would have thought that a creature film could be so popular amongst mainstream critics, but The Host is well deserving of its praise. Quotes called it "a knockout monster movie" and "on par with Jaws," so check this one out and see what you think.


  1. Completely agree with all of your points here, I fell in love with The Host the first time I saw it. In fact, I may even go so far as to say I fell in love with it the first time I saw the trailer, and the movie just cemented it.

  2. ah fuck, still haven't seen it. thanx for the reminder!

  3. @Mister Bones - For it being so popular, I'm surprised I never heard of it when people talk about Asian horror. I'm glad I saw it cuz now I'm in love too!

    @Maynard - Drop everything and see it now. I'm pretty sure you'd like it a lot.

  4. I saw this last year and quite liked it, definately worth a watch.