Anime Reporter takes a look at a bit of Korean film now with 2006’s The Host (No, not the Stephanie Meyer film of the same film). This monster film broke all sorts of records in its own country and has earned itself quite a bit of praise around the world. Let’s see why.
The film begins in 2000 at a US military medical facility in Korea. A fairly mad American doctor orders his Korean assistant to dispose of several gallons of formaldehyde because the bottles are dusty and the chemical is dumped down the drain into the Han River (based on real events… so far).
Six years later, Park Gang-du, a young Korean father who spends most of his time sleeping so he can build up enough energy to relax, is working at his family’s food stand in the park near the river when, wouldn’t you know it, a horribly giant mutated fish-creature makes its grand debut and starts killing and eating everyone it can get its flippers on. In a very well handled panicked-crowd scene, Gang-du loses sight of his daughter, Hyun-Seo, and she becomes one of many people taken by the creature. While his family grieves and fights over Hyun-Seo, the American and Korean governments instigate a quarantine for anyone who came into contact with the creature. Gang-du, along with his father, Hee-bong, his brother, Nam-Il and his sister, Nam Joo, are taken to a medical facility and studied closely. Evidently the creature is the host for a horrifying and disfiguring virus and Gang-du is now surely contaminated.
Pretty much resigned to utter misery and grief, Gang-du is thrown another curveball when he receives a phone call from his daughter in the middle of the night telling him that she’s alive and in the sewers. The Park family come together to break out of captivity and try to track down their precious Hyun-Seo and hopefully hunt down the creature that took her, all the while being hunted by the media, the military and virtually everyone else.
At the beginning, it’s quite easy to mislabel this film as a horror comedy, but it’s really a story of redemption and loss taking place in a truly bizarre setting. The main cast is superb, with Gang-du’s Song Kang-ho striking a fine balance between clown and sympathetic protagonist. Special praise has to go to Byun Hee-bong, who plays Hee-bong and Go Ah-sung who plays Hyun-seo. Both give depth and subtlety to their performances in a genre of film that doesn’t always ask for it and it makes it much easier to engage with this story about a giant disfigured killer fish.
The special effects are very admirable considering the film’s total budget of 11 million dollars. The creature is rendered entirely in CGI and while certain scenes can feel a bit inconsistent, the overall quality is impressive, particularly with regard to the creature moving in water.
All in all, The Host is a surprising film, more personal than your typical creature film, but with a few moments here and there that feel out of place with some of its darker tones. There are a few moments parodying some of the tropes of American films and even the U.S. military presence in South Korea. This is a movie about a giant weird fish-monster, but it’s also brilliant and original. Check it out.