Dir – Joon Ho-Bong
Viewed: From the Balcony
[This is an unrevised review written back in March after I'd seen it in the theaters. Paddy didn't get a chance to check it out so I'm posting it now since the DVD just came out.]
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll shit your pants. That probably shouldn’t be used to describe any movie, but nonetheless, The Host, a wildly fun and inventive monster movie from Korea, successfully manages to walk the line between just about every tone you can hit in a movie. When we talked about Tears of Black Tiger I might have mentioned that it too tries to hit every note – comedy, melodrama, action, suspense, tragedy, but does each one of them half-asssed hoping to mostly skate by on its perceived charm, some visual flair and good intentions. The Host hits this mix with a rivet gun and sets its perverse tone beautifully in a scene early on after our mini-Godzilla runs amuck along a park located on the bank of it’s birth place, Seoul’s Han River. Our protagonists are a dysfunctional family that runs a food stand on the park and have just lost their youngest member to the monster’s clutches. Placed in a shelter with the rest of the witnesses, they gather together around a photo of the young daughter/granddaughter/sister/niece. At first it seems like this is going to be a poignant scene of mourning but it somehow flawlessly dissolves into wonderful absurdism with the family rolling on the ground kicking at each other, crying, blaming one another. But that doesn’t mean the movie refuses to go down that poignant alley. It does, but on its own terms.
I’m tempted to keep this one short and sweet as it’s the kind of movie that can be ruined by too much information. Suffice to say the family comes together to hunt down the monster that took their precious Hyun-seo away from them – they learn to put away their differences and realize that they love each other and all that, just like Little Miss Sunshine! Except this family is actually more relatable than that one, the performances more honest and touching, and it doesn’t end with a fat girl dancing that makes everything all better.
The scale of this movie impressed the hell out of me. I’ve been watching a good share of Korean movies the past few years and none have been as “big” as this one. If you’re familiar at all with South Korean cinema you might think of the Ki-duk Kim movies like 3-Iron or Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring or the revenge trilogy from Chan-wook Park or the bizzaro masterpiece Save the Green Planet!. They’re definitely big movies as far as the emotional punches they can hit you with but the Host is the first time I’ve seen South Korea put out something that beats Hollywood up and down the block at what it’s famous for. The overgrown frogsquid monster is some of the best cgi character work ever done. Certainly puts some of those second trilogy Star Wars characters to shame.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the most fun I have in a movie theater this year. And I’m one of those guys who’s looking forward to Spiderman 3. It might have to do with that feeling you get going into a movie with mild expectations and getting blown away. That experience will always trump going into something with huge expectations and being satisfied.