Tuesday, March 13, 2007

THE HOST


The Host (Korean: Gwoemul)
2006
Rated R
119 Minutes
1.85:1

Directed by: Joon-ho Bong

This Korean monster movie came out of nowhere and caused a big hullbaloo at Cannes last year and is setting Korean box office records.

One quiet, ordinary day, along the banks of the Han River in Seoul, a giant bloodthirsty sea monster leaps from the water and goes on a bloodthirsty rampage, eating and killing anything in its bloodthirsty path, then vanishes as quickly as it appeared. This throws the Korean government into a panic as they quarantine the area to try to figure out what the hell happened. During the attack, Gang-Du, a simple-minded underachiever who works for his father at a food stand along the Han, loses his daughter to the beast...but after a cell phone call from the girl, they realize she's still alive...somewhere. So Gang-du and his father, with the help of Gang-du's younger brother and a sister who is also an olympic medalist in archery (yeah, you read that right) defy the goverment's wishes and search the area for the girl. Now I gotta confess I saw this movie a few months ago so I wanted to refresh my memory about it by reading the synopsis on imdb. And it said something a little odd. They seem to think the story revolves around the character of the father, Hee Bong. Now I thought it was pretty clearly Gang-du. But this brings up the only negative point I had to make about this otherwise pretty cool little picture - and that is the slippery narrative. There seems to be some baton-passing going on between the characters sharing hero duties, as it were, and it kept hamstringing the momentum for me. There's no law that says a story must have a clear protagonist, and European films have perhaps seen a little more success at this type of storytelling going back to Fritz Lang's "M," but I couldn't tell if it was intentional or just muddled. There's a vague sub plot going on involving the American military and it was unclear to me how much attention I was supposed to be paying it, and although Gang-du seemed like the hero to me, he did get an inordinate amount of help from numerous people while trying to rescue his daughter from the clutches of the mutant river beast. I don't mean to be too harsh, the monster really is quite interesting and scary and the sequences following the daughter who's still alive in the creature's lair were quite fun and suspenseful. And it's nice to see effects that good from a non-Hollywood flick for a change. The bottom line is that when "The Host" is good, it's good, but the somewhat unsatisfying ending and vague storytelling may keep me from revisiting it in the future.