Though not the last South Korean film on the list, the last choice for my South Korea-a-thon was an easy one. The Host, or Gwoemul, was heavily anticipated before its release, and broke the domestic South Korean record for a film being released on the most screens. Upon its release, it quickly became the most profitable South Korean film of all time. So, what about The Host made it so popular and easily accessible? Simple; for one, it’s a monster movie (the literal translation of Gwoemul is “Monster”), so there’s broad mass appeal right there, especially in Asian countries. Secondly, it had the esteem of a well-received director, and was given one of the biggest budgets in South Korean film to make, meaning the production value and visual effects are certainly above par. And, of course, it’s a well made film as a whole.
After his daughter is taken by the monster, a slacker dad and his off-beat family head into the sewers to track down the monster and save the girl. Simple monster movie premise, and I don’t fault it any for going that route. The Host is unusual for a monster movie, in that, right from the get-go, the monster is revealed to us completely, in broad daylight. There’s no sense of dread leading up to the reveal, no slow burn as bits and glimpses of the monster are revealed to us (though, through the middle section of the film, there are plenty of “gotcha” moments where sounds and flits of moment are teased to us before either being revealed as the monster, or just an average noise from the sewer or some other human being). When the monster is here, it’s here, dammit, and the rest is left up to the storyline and the characterization. It’s these two factors that make The Host hold up as well as it does. The story, cut down to its basics, is a typical monster movie formula, but the filmmakers imbue it with a level of realism and the tiniest touches of humor, so that you rarely feel you’re ever watching a generic monster movie, and you’re really not; the plot turns a few ways you wouldn’t expect it to, especially near the end, so even monster movie diehards can expect a surprise or two. As for the characters, they each have their roles to play, and while they don’t change all that much from the beginning of the journey to the end, they’re different enough and clash often enough with each other that the film is no less off.
The Host ends up being so much more than just a monster movie, and in that it also ends up as one of the, if not the, definitive monster movies. No other monster movie I’ve seen so completely and fluidly handles the regular monster movie tropes, while at the same time surpasses them with brave choices and uncommon storytelling. I will say, though, that the ending is just barely feel-good, and even that is a stretch, so if you’re in this expecting the generic monster movie ending that wraps everything up and has everyone largely returning to their normal lives as if nothing had happened, The Host will throw you for a bit of a loop. But, in my opinion, it’s a good loop; it’s one that doesn’t happen all too often in these types of films, and that alone makes The Host different from the rest of the pack. This is certainly worth your time, and I think just about anyone that can watch a subtitled film can watch this, enjoy it, and by the end, realize they got a lot more out of it than they thought they were going to. That’s certainly a winner to me.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10