The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #21 May / June 2016
At the Cinema
The Host
by Erik Zidowecki
May / June 2016 | 

When I selected this months film, The Host, I made two mistakes.

The first mistake was in not realizing it was listed as a horror film. I avoid those because the films that I grew up which were labelled that way were full of cheap scares (a person gets nervous, then is suddenly startled by another person, rather than something horrific) and messy deaths (people being mutilated with blood flying everywhere). Such films as "Halloween" and "Nightmare on Elm Street" were filled with teens getting murdered in gross ways, making them more of what I called "gore" films.

Fortunately, this film was more in line with what I do like: a rampaging monster terrorizing the local population. These are especially good when you are frustrated with people in general, as you can cheer for the monster.

The film is actually a combination of comedy and horror, with the humour coming mainly from Gang-doo and his ability to screw up basically any situation.

The second mistake was in seeing that it was from South Korea and thinking it would be a silly low-budget production with the creature being someone in a foam suit.

As it turns out, South Korea is very good at producing high quality films. This was shown to me in the first twenty minutes when we get to see the creature. Most horror films like to hide the monster for most of the story, only allowing the audience quick partial glimpses of it, while they spend the rest of the film building up tension for an actual confrontation. I find those situations to be rather boring and anti-climatic, because no matter how good the monster is, it never seems to match up to what you have been imagining.

Gang-doo and Hyun-seo watching Nam-joo in an archery tournament on television.

However, The Host wastes no time in showing you a full sized monster running amok, out in the open during daylight. Moreover, while it is a computer generated creature, it feels natural and moves with an amazing smoothness and speed. When we know how bad the creature is from the start, then we can enjoy seeing more encounters with it, rather than just hoping for something more.

Another treat is that this film actually had something of a plot, which isn't something always found in a horror flick.

The main characters are the Park family, who essentially run a small snack shop on the shore of the Han River. The head of the family is Hie-Bong (Grandpa / Father), and it is his shop. He has three children: Gang-doo, who is supposed to help run the shop but tends to avoid doing anything; Nam-il, the college educated son turned alcoholic; and Nam-joo, the daughter who is a competitive archer. There is also Gang-doo's daughter, Hyun-seo.

Watch out! Hyun-seo is about to be snatched up by the monster.

We start out first a few years earlier, in a laboratory, where a scientist is telling his assistant to empty dust-covered bottles of formaldehyde down the drain. The assistant complains that doing so is not only illegal but it will pollute the Han River which the drains go directly to, (Who would hook any drainage system directly into a river, especially one for a laboratory?) but he does it anyways, and there are dozens of bottles to be emptied. This setup is to explain that the creature is a result of pollution.

From there, we jump ahead to the present day where we meet Gang-doo, as he is sleeping at his clerk position in the snack shop. His disgusted father wakes him and gives him another task to do, which he screws up before retreating to their living quarters in the shop with Hyun-seo, who has returned home from school. They start watching Nam-joo who is in an archery tournament on television. Hie-bong closes the shop so he can watch too, but he sends Gang-doo off to deliver an order to a customer in the park.

When Gang-doo goes to deliver the tray of food and beer, he finds a group of people staring at some huge creature hanging from under the bridge. They watch as it drops into the water and swims to where they are. On a whim, Gung-doo throws one of the cans of beer into the water, and the crowd is excited to see a pointed tail strike out and grab the can.

Warning to all tourists: When travelling abroad, stay away from rampaging monsters.

Naturally, they all start throwing things into the water now, recording the results on their video phones. At first the creature seems bored, but then it launches itself onto the shore and starts rampaging, running and trampling anyone in its path. Gang-doo, along with a tourist, manage to strike the monster with the concrete base of a sign a few times before, to Gang-doo's horror, the beast swallows the tourist.

During all this, Gang-doo's daughter wanders out of the shop, completely unaware of the carnage going on around her. Gang-doo grabs her hand while running, attempting to drag her away to safety, but she trips and when grabs at her hand again, he mistakenly grabs that of another young girl. He has left his daughter behind! When he realizes this, he turns and watches as the creature descends upon her. For some reason, rather than trample her, the monster grabs her with its long tail then leaps back into the river, taking her with it.

The government moves soldiers into the area, herding the survivors into a large auditorium, and pictures of those who died during the attack are placed at one end of the room. Gang-doo's brother and sister arrive, and the whole family mourns the loss of Hyun-seo.

The creature taking a huge dive back into the river with Hyun-seo.

But things are far from over. The government has determined that the creature is spreading a virus to anyone it touches, and Gang-doo is one who made contact with the creature. He is taken into quarantine, to be examined by scientists who are fearful of an epidemic being unleashed on the city.

During that time, he receives a call on his phone. It is Hyun-seo. She is alive! But she is trapped somewhere in the sewer, and her phone battery dies before she can give more details. Gang-doo and his family take it upon themselves to break out of quarantine and rescue her before the monster kills her.

The film is actually a combination of comedy and horror, with the humour coming mainly from Gang-doo and his ability to screw up basically any situation. At some points, I found the humour a little forced or a comic scene dragging on too long.

Hyun-seo manages to let her family know she is still alive with her mobile phone.

These were tolerated, however, because of some really excellent scenes of the creature. One scene which had me awed was watching the monster travelling under a bridge. It did this by first swinging on a beam with its front legs as it latched its tail onto beams further along. It would then release its legs, swing through by its tail, then grab the next beam with its legs again. It gave the beast a completely unique means of travel, establishing it has a completely foreign entity.

The language of the film is mostly Korean, with only a little English, so you aren't going to find a large mix to satisfy your polyglot passion. The comedy aspect might also not be to your taste if you are looking for a completely serious horror flick.

Given those caveats, if you have any interest at all in creature movies, I would highly recommend The Host. It is a very well done and entertaining piece of cinema, whether you cheer for the humans or the monster.

At The Cinema - The Host
Writer: Erik Zidowecki
• "The Host" Internet Movie Database <>
All images are copyright Showbox Entertainment, Chungeorahm Film, and Boston Investments

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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