Director: Bong Joon-ho
Screenplay: Baek Chul-hyun and Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Song Kang-ho (as Park Gang-du); Byun Hee-bong (as Park Hee-bong); Park Hae-il (as Park Nam-il); Bae Doona (as Park Nam-joo); Go Ah-sung (as Park Hyun-seo);
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #12
The Host is an interesting case of a kaiju/monster movie if shrunk to concentrate on a small character piece; while Hollywood blockbusters tend to downscale their drama to one character and their family to a detriment, this is deliberately a drama about a dysfunctional family first which just happens to centre around a crisis that effects the local population. Chemicals poured into the Han river creates a mutated aquatic beast that terrorises the locals and may spread a virus to those who come into contact with it, but the central drama is not a scientist or the military trying to destroy the beast like in a Toho film from Japan, but a less than perfect family. A divorced slacker (Kang-ho), whose daughter (Ah-sung) is captured by the beast, and is followed by his father (Hee-bong), his sister (Doona) who is a professional archer, and the washed up, alcoholic second son (Hae-il) to try to rescue her when they discover she's still alive.
The combination of comedy and drama, more common in Asian cinema and trademark especially with modern South Korean cinema, does work exceptionally well as it fleshes out the characters rather than feel inappropriate, helped by the fact that once you've adapted to it its paced out carefully. What does falter the film a litter, dating the film to the Bush Jr. era, is the anti-American political context where the US military take a heavy handed and problematic attitude to trying to stop the beast. This does feel like the one flaw of the film when the 1954 Godzilla film could simply present a beast created from nuclear power and just hint from that image of themes hidden between the lines of such a creature. Instead it's the family drama that's significantly more rewarding.
What's dated well, as it uses extensive CGI, is the beast itself, a Weta Workshop creation digitally, with animatronics from another studio, that still looks exceptionally good and is helped by the fact that, because Bong-Jong Ho made the film a quiet dramatic-comedy in-between the action, the most extensive scenes with the beast have a greater effect and don't present it in a way that'd reveal its seams. That the film matches the type of subtlety that the director showed in Memories of Murder (2003), including a more honesty and bitter sweet ending, does cement the great qualities of the film.