Monday, February 19, 2007

The Host

The Host (Gwoemul) is the third and latest film by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, and fits squarely in the monster genre, along with Alien, Godzilla and Jaws (all of which it is being compared to). His previous films (neither of which I have seen) were Memories of Murder (Salinui chueok, 2003), a crime thriller, and Barking Dogs Never Bite (Flandersui gae, 2000) a dark comedy.

Unfortunately, we don’t see many Korean films distributed in this country. Those I have seen have been arthouse or festival screenings and hold in high esteem such as Kim Ki-Duk’s Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom) and Address Unknown (Suchwiin bulmyeong), and Chang-dong Lee’s Oasis. Korea reportedly has a strong culture of supporting it’s own film industry, so it is a matter of regret that we don’t get to see more of the country’s output.

The Host is by no means an arthouse release, sharing more in common with Hollywood productions, though clearly superior to that derivation. There are clear political sub-themes in the film, some anti-American, with references to US exploitation and environmental irresponsibility, political deceit and images reminiscent of SARS.

The Host is a curious creature (pun not intended). On the one hand it employs beautifully realistic cinematography, perhaps with a slight blue tint to emphasise coldness and an environment favourable to the creature and subtly hostile towards humans. Neither the colouration nor the contrast are overused as seems to be par for the course in such films these days.

The creature effects by Weta (Lord of the Rings) and The Orphanage (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) are also very effective. The CGI is used to extremely good effect with excellent attention to detail, and is not overused (as is often the case in the genre). The creature itself is creepy and believable. The story pans out with a palpable sense of tension; this is edge-of-your seat for much of the action.

On the other hand, the film suffers from playing too close to its genre, as if the genre demands a certain level of unintelligible plot and characterisation. A comedic element tends to soften the blows that the horror hits the audience with. At times it becomes a little slapstick, to the film's detriment. There is a high level of realism so I would have preferred if the film had been played straight and serious, playing down the humour. It would have made the film even scarier and allowed greater scope for emotionally buying into the story.

By making unlikely heroes of a madcap, dysfunctional family, the film loses some plausibility, and thus some of the audience. That these guys could succeed (and I don’t think I’m giving anything away in saying this) where the military fails is a tad unlikely. But this type of contrivance is au fait in the genre, so I don’t think the target audience will mind it.

To the film’s credit, it avoided the shock tactics employed by many films in the genre, using thriller devices rather than bloody scenes of carnage. Well, there is some carnage – think Jaws. Running at just on two hours, the film is a little long. Perhaps it was trying to cover too many bases (politics, family drama, thriller and horror).

If you’re looking for Korean arthouse, you may want to give this one a miss. But if you’re young, and/or a fan of the horror genre, this is the film for you, definitely superior to its American counterparts.

Official website / IMDB

Dir: Bong Joon-Ho Rating: M Duration: 119 min Genre: horror/drama/comedy Language: Korean Country: South Korea Release: 8/3/07 Dist: Madman Entertainment Prod Co: Cheongeoran Film Prod: Choi Yong-bae, Kim Woo-taek, Jeong Tae-sung Scr: Bong Joon-ho, Hah Joon-won, Baek Chul-hyn Sound Des: Choi Tae-young Phot: Kim Hyung-goo Ed: Kim Sun-min Prod Des: Ryu Seong-hee Mus: Byeongwoo Lee Cast: Song Kang-Ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doo-na, Ko A-sung


Marina said...

I am *still* kicking myself that I missed my screening of this at the Vancouver Film Festival last year. Now I have to wait with everyone else....

I'm starting to get impatient!

Paul Martin said...

Marina, I'd highly recommend this film to fans of the genre. But it didn't do much for me. I generally don't like horror films, but found this better than most I've seen (and was better than expected).

I've read quotes by the director that he uses comedy in all his films. It doesn't quite gel for me.

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