Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: The Host (2006)

No, this is not about that Stephanie Meyer book-to-movie adaption, which I have avoided thus far. It's not that I think it will be a particularly awful movie, even though the previews all made it apparent that it is science fiction love story not unlike her other more well-known book series that also got turned into films I will not speak the name of. I just really am focused on more important things, like giant monsters and not crapping myself. But yeah, this is not about her story of alien-melodrama. This is about the Korean film of the same name which tells the story of a poor misunderstood fish that got mutated into a horrible monster that eats more Koreans than Kim Jong-un eats cake.

Yes, your tears will taste so sweet in today's delectable confection. To the bakery!
When this movie first came out, I knew next to nothing about it. I knew it was a monster movie from Korea, that's about it. But when my buddy Felix recommended it to me, I decided that I should invest some time into watching it. Now I sit here today to take a walk back down memory lane as I talk about this film and the country that it sprang forth from. Let's dive right into The Host!

Weeeeeeee!!
 We see an American pathologist working for the military who is informing his assistant to dump over 200 bottles of formaldehyde down a drain leading into the Han River, which makes said assistant rather uncomfortable as he is aware of the fact that dumping harmful toxic chemicals into the river is probably not a great idea. But his boss manages to stare at him creepily enough to convince him to obey orders as he does so and we then see some fishermen catch a very strange mutant creature that they decide to throw back, as it probably doesn't taste very good. We also see a few years down the line a suicidal businessman is hanging from the edge of the bridge in the rain as his men try to coax him down. Before he jumps, he notices something in the water that is moving around, but that doesn't really change his mind and he lets go of the bridge to fall into the water below.

...I sure hope I don't survive this fall and get eaten by it, because that would suck a lot more.
After more time has passed we then see our main character, Park Gang-du, a rather sweet and simple (albeit slow) man who works with his father, Hee-bong, at a small snack stand along the river in Seoul. He also has a daughter, Hyun-seo, he seems to long to impress as he knows she and others think him very simple-minded. The fact that he naps all the time probably doesn't help matters. He only seems to really care to wake up from his napping when he thinks his daughter is around, which is honestly kinda cute. His father is less than enthused about his son's obvious lethargy though. And Hyun-seo isn't really happy about her father being the way he is either, complaining about her phone to him and about how her uncle came to parents' day instead of him. He tries to show her that he's saving money up for a new phone for her though, and he seems to have a good relationship with her in general so it's pretty nice to see them together overall.

Nothing says fatherly love like giving your underage daughter beer, right?
They sit as a family to watch her aunt's archery match on television. Gramps take his son aside though because apparently he's been stealing tentacles from the dried squid they sell and the customers are complaining. So, he takes this to heart as he delivers an order to some people along the river who seem very preoccupied with some strange thing that is hanging from the bridge. One thinks it might be some construction equipment, another thinks it's something that is submersible, but several of them are certain that regardless of what it is, it is moving. Meanwhile Gramps is enjoying the archery with his granddaughter as his daughter owns the competition, completely unaware of the goings on outside. What's going on outside? Well, the thing drops into the water and the people start throwing trash at the thing in the water. Then, the havoc begins.

POLLUTION IS BAAAAAD!!!
Yes, it seems the creature reacted badly to having things thrown at it as it made its way out of the water and decided to get into a feeding frenzy. It tears through the crowd of people with the sort of ease the few lawnmowers can mimic. It's pure violent pandemonium and I love every bit of it. The best part is right at the start though, as we see Gang-du staring on as the creature approaches from a distance and the other people join him, not unlike deer in front of oncoming headlights. Unlike those deer though, they seem smart enough to start running like hell. Gang-du and a rather bad-ass American guy try to stop the rampage, but it results in the American getting injured and Gang-du being chased by the creature. He grabs for what he thinks is his daughter, but soon realizes its not her as the creature is going after her. He tries to make it to her but is left to only watch helplessly as it snatches Hyun-seo up and swims away.

Come to Korea, get eaten by our terrifying river monster.
In the wake of all of that, a mass funeral for all the people killed is held and promptly intterupted by the Korean government and American military as all of the people who have been in contact with the big ugly, including Gang-du, are held in quarantine. They say that creature is a rather big danger to the public (duhhh) and that it's also the host of a new unknown deadly virus. Likely, this has something to do with the obvious whole dumping formaldehyde down the drain. It's also shown that the previously seen American guy who lost his arm fighting the creature alongside Gang-du has contracted this virus. Lovely. I know it makes me want to go travel more. Come to our country where new and inventive ways for you to die have been discovered! The food is great too! Gang-du, along with his family, get a phone call from Hyun-seo who apparently isn't dead and was dropped in the sewers somewhere by the creature so it could have a snack later. This inspires them to get their shit together and mount a rescue.

Let's get down to business to defeat the Host!
So, Gang-du, Nam-joo (his sister), Nam-il (his brother), and their father go buy a truck, a map of the sewers, and weapons to go monster hunting. They're geared up and ready to kick all sorts of mutant fish ass now. Meanwhile, we get two young brothers, Se-jin and Se-joo, who are attacked by the creature as they look for food. They try to run but the big nasty swallows them up, puking them back out in to the sewers where it left Hyun-seo. Sadly, the elder brother seems to have died in the process, leaving Se-Joo to hide with her from the creature. Getting back to her family, we find them searching the sewers when they run afoul of the very monster they're hunting. In a bad turn of events, they quickly burn through their ammo. Gramps tells the others to run while he take Gang-du's shotgun which is supposed to have one shell left in it. He realizes this too late as his father is killed by the creature, which was what was going to happen either way. The military shows up and takes poor Gang-du prisoner as he mourns his father.

On the bright side, he can enjoy more naps now.
Nam-il gets a friend to try and trace the cell phone of his niece, but his friend informs him that there's a bounty on him and his family. And in shocking twist, said friend turns out to be huge greedy dick who tries to turn Nami-il in for said bounty. Luckily he avoids being caught and we go to his sister Nam-joo who is searching the sewers solo, which isn't a bad thing in itself as long as she can avoid finding that big nasty monster that eats people.

Dammit, you had one job! ONE! JOB!
She prepares to take a shot at the creature but, just like in her competition earlier, she hesitates and the last minute and ends up being knocked into a hole. But the creature can't seem to get down there, so it runs off to do whatever it is it does when we're not seeing it. I guess really enjoys jogging. We get back to poor Gang-du who scientists believe to be infected as they think his going on about his daughter still being alive is a symptom of the virus, which prompts them to decide operating on his brain is a great idea as it turns out have no actual trace of any virus and are hoping a sample of his brain will have it. Post-operation, however, he manages to get loose though, taking one of the nurses hostage with the threat of a syringe of his "infected" blood. He then escapes to rejoin his family and hopefully find his daughter. Nam-il wakes up the next morning next to a homeless vagabond who says he knows all about the quarantine, but doesn't really give a fuck, and shares his story with the man. They decide to work together to find the creature and save the girl.

Easier said than done, boys.
Back in the sewers, Hyun-seo finds the creature sleeping, so she makes a rope out of dead people's clothing, then latches it onto the drain above. But, because things always seem to go wrong, big ugly wakes up and gently lowers her down...before swallowing her and the kid outright. Yikes. The government decides to release some chemical called Agent Yellow in to the river, which pisses everybody off immensely, Gang-du finds the sewer where his daughter was but isn't anymore, but he does see the creature overhead with her arm hanging out of its mouth. Oh shit, this just got real now, son. He chases it as his brother and the homeless guy show up at the protest just in time for the monster to start doing monster stuff again. Agent Yellow gets released but it doesn't do a whole lot, definitely not killing the creature or even bothering to give it a bad cough. It does make it kinda tired it seems though as it lays down and Gang-du fishes the two kids out of its maw. Sadly, his daughter died but the boy survived. In a fit of parental rage, he attacks the creature will a pole, but it fights back. His brother and his homeless compatriot try to help out by throwing Molotov cocktails at the creature. The homeless gent pours petrol on the creature, but the last bottle gets dropped before it can ignite the monster. Sister-dear shows up though, taking the flaming rag and igniting an arrow that she then shoot into the eye of the creature.

Korean barbecue was revolutionized on that day.
It tries to make a break for the river to put out the fire, but Gang-du impales it on the pole, finally putting it down. The aunt and uncle mourn the death of their niece as her father goes to the boy who somehow managed to cling to life and scoops him up to take him to safety. Time passes, and we see him and the boy now living at his father's stand together, leaving us to assume he adopted him. He thinks he sees something out in the water as he reaches instinctively for his shotgun, but it turns out to be nothing. They sit down to eat as the news recalls the devastation the monster left in its wake. They turn to television off and choose to just eat quietly together alone.

He also seems to have stopped dying his hair blonde.
This movie is a great one. I would even go as far as to say it's one of my favourite monster movies. It balances action with the drama and terror of a family that is falling apart in the wake of losing a child. It's a very real fear that a lot of people have gone through. Any parent whose kids wanders off to play without them knowing it knows all about this fear. Hell, the video game Silent Hill was all about that very thing, as it followed Harry Mason on his quest to find his missing daughter. And, much like Harry, I really cared about Gang-du's plight. He felt very genuine and real, like a man who felt he had one good thing going for him: his child. It's clear early on that she is his entire world, so when she's snatched from him, that world crumbles. But the movie sees him grow stronger as he works to get her back, no matter the cost. Even though he loses her in the end, she saves another child and I feel that he takes it upon himself to care for the boy for that very reason. Se-joo is the last connection he has to Hyun-jeo, so he nurtures the boy as he wishes he had been able to do with her.

He never was able to get her that cell phone.
I loved every moment of this movie. It's a very touching story while also simultaneously being a thoroughly enjoyable creature feature. I have taken almost every chance I could to recommend this to others as I had it recommended to me, and I suggest that if you watch it you do the same. Because good movies are worth talking about. Until next we meet, I'll be thinking of good places to hide in case a big monster comes tromping out of my river.

Remember, don't hide in the sewer!

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