Monday, August 06, 2007


Something dark in the water

By Edward Copeland
I tried to scratch my memory for the last time I saw a true, old-style monster movie, one where the creature is the result of some man-made mistake and it's up to civilians to try to clean up the resulting mess. That's certainly the case with the South Korean film The Host, though its tone is more often one of fun than fright.

Director Bong Joon-ho summons a great 1950s monster movie feel almost from the beginning, where a thoughtless government entity (this time the U.S. military, personified in a cameo by American actor Scott Wilson) unwittingly creates a mutant destined to wreak havoc on unsuspecting civilians.

The pace seldom sags and while the scares aren't really that tension-inducing, the fun tone certainly makes up for it. The story focuses on a single Korean family who runs a convenience store and gets swept up in the chaos when the creature rises from the sea and takes the daughter (Ko Ah-sung) of the store owner's ne'er-do-well son (Song Kang-ho).

However, the plot hardly is as simple as it sounds as in addition to the rampaging monster, a slimy, fast-moving creature equally at home on land and in the sea and with multiple sets of teeth, there is the concern of a virus that ignites a quarantine (ordered by the U.S.) and later a plan for extreme measures to clean up the mess.

The metaphors for U.S. strongarm tactics and incompetence certainly are there, but the movie doesn't lay them on thick enough to distract from the general mood of the romp, especially the kooky performance by Song Kang-ho, who concocts an intriguing mix of concerned father, puzzled slacker and bureaucratic victim as he tries to stop the slimy beast.

The movie ends on a somewhat poignant note that doesn't quite mesh with the tone of what's preceded it, but by then you've developed such affection for the characters, that you're willing to let it go.

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I was very pleased with this movie as well. The introduction of the monster is brilliant and treated with the spontaneity one would expect when you're watching something that seems somewhat cute at first but quickly turns terrifying.

During most of the movie, I asked myself "does this creature actually eat anyone" and then came the bones scene which I thought was funny/terrifying and something fresh in a category that hasn't seen freshness in a long, long time.
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