I haven’t had this much fun at the movies since Babel! No, really, now…. The Host is a silly horror movie which is so danged non-stop entertaining that I left the theater giggling, with a jaunty spring to my step. Sure that sounds totally cheesy, but I can’t remember the last time when I’ve had this much good, clean fun at a movie.
The Host plays off the typical Godzilla formula: man’s negligent pollution of nature leads to a big, mean beastie. The prologue shows us a US military officer in scrubs telling his Korean counterpart to pour hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde down the sink drain. But his cohort counters, “Uhh… that would go right into the Han River!” In true American non-waffling style, he instructs the Korean again to just do it. (Apparently this is based on a true incident in 2000 where the US military was busted for doing just that: pouring poison into the Han, which runs right through Seoul!) Flash forward a couple years, and some fisherman encounter a bitey little tadpole in the river. Then forward again to the present time and…
Gang-Du (Kang-ho Song) is asleep again on the job, drooling all over the candy and sundries that he sells out of the snack shack he runs with his father. Gang-Du is a single dad, kind of a simpleton, but not a bad guy. With his shock of bleach-blonde hair, and his baggy sweatpants, he seems like he never grew up. His ex probably thought the same thing, for right after their daughter was born, she left them both. Now cute Hyun-seo is 13, and is raised by the extended family of Gang-Du, Grandpa (Hie-bong Byeon), Gang-du’s drunkard college-educated brother Park Nam-il (Hae-il Park), and their sister Park Nam-Joo, a famous archer (Du-na Bae) that chokes in performance just when it counts.
In the best horror-movie style, The Host wastes no time setting up the premise. Gang-du, while bringing an order to some of his customers at the riverside park, joins a crowd of people looking at this mysterious huge blob hanging like a monstrous teardrop from the bridge. The blob unfurls, drops into the water, and after being pelted by beer cans and corn nuts, leaps out of the water on all of its sticky—now huge—tadpole appendages, and wreaks havoc on the park-goers. Among the victims grabbed is Gang-Du’s beloved daughter Hyun-seo. The race to rescue her before it is too late begins!
The Host works on every level. As a horror movie, it has a big, mean, scary mutated beast, dark sewers, and murky water. There are several genuine scares that had the audience squeal and laugh, and there are plenty of nail-biting moments that are right up there with Jaws or Jurassic Park. It also works great as a comedy. Director Joon-ho Bong is apparently best known for the straight-arrow police drama Memories of Murder, but he displays a flair for droll, absurd comedy in The Host. There are a lot of clever political asides, poking fun both at Koreans and Americans, but there is also a broader, goofy humor through the whole flick. But, finally, The Host is a surprisingly sweet family drama, with the scrappy family—who are all most seriously flawed—finding the best in themselves to just about becomes superheroes when it comes to rescuing one of their own.