Wednesday, October 17, 2012
The Host (2006 film)
Directed by Bong Joon-ho and written by Joon-ho and Baek Chul-hyun, The Host is the story of a family trying to rescue a young girl from a monster that was snatched up just as their city is being ravaged by this monster. The film is a monster movie of sorts as it’s also a story about a family coming together to save their one of their own while dealing with the chaos surrounding their city with claims of a viral epidemic happening. Starring Song Kang-ho, Byeon Hee-bong, Boona Dae, Park Hae-il, and Go Ah-sung. The Host is a thrilling yet captivating monster film from Bong Joon-ho.
On a typical day near the Han River in Seoul, Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) is a narcoleptic man who runs a snack bar with his father Hee-bong (Byeon Hee-bong) while caring for his adolescent daughter Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung). While delivering food to some customers near the river, Gang-du and fellow locals notice something coming out of the river as a monster appears wreaking havoc around the area as Hyun-seo was suddenly taken by the monster as Gang-du tries to save her. The monster reaches national attention as Gang-du and Hee-bong are taken to a building where a mass funeral is held as Gang-du’s former activist brother Nam-il (Park Hae-il) and national archer sister Nam-joo (Boona Dae) arrive as they’re consumed with grief over Hyun-seo. The family is then taken to the hospital as Gang-du has come in direct contact with the monster believing that the monster is carrying a virus.
While in quarantine, Gang-du receives a call from his cell phone as he hears Hyun-seo’s voice as he realizes that she’s alive as he wants to leave the hospital to save her. The rest of the family wants to join in as they learn that she’s somewhere in a sewer as they all make an escape from the hospital as they buy weapons to track down the monster. With the help of a map of the sewers near the Han river, the family tries to find Hyun-seo and the monster. Meanwhile, two brothers in Se-jin (Lee Jae-eung) and Se-joo (Lee Dong-ho) look for food in the area as they’re attacked by monsters where Se-joo is at the sewer with Hyun-seo as they’re the only survivors. After an encounter with monster that leaves the family splintered and Gang-du captured, all hope seems to be lost until Nam-il finally traces Hyun-seo’s call. When Gang-du learns some revelations about the virus and what the government is going to do, he makes another escape to rejoin the family to save his daughter.
Since the film is a monster movie of sorts, it’s really about a family coming together to save one of their own as it strays from a lot of typical premises with the genre. By focusing on this very dysfunctional family where it’s led by an aging snack-bar owner, the family consists of a not-so-bright man who often sleeps a lot, a college graduate who used to be an activist as he’s turned to alcoholism, and a young woman who is a skilled archer but is very slow in her delivery. When they come together to save a young girl, they do whatever they can to find her and kill the monster while they’re being surrounded by this chaos about a viral epidemic around them.
The film’s screenplay does play with a lot of the schematics that is expected in a monster movie but it’s also a movie that also plays into satire about the way governments handle crazy incidents and these viral epidemics that makes people go crazy. In the midst of all of this craziness is a monster on the loose that is eating up people while eventually taking two kids that are still alive from the attack as they try to escape from the monster. Aside from the victims, the family end up becoming the most rational people as they try to find Hyun-seo anyway they can as they later deal with all sorts of tribulations in their quest to find her.
Bong Joon-ho’s direction is definitely vast in its ambitions as he shoots the film on location in Seoul and at the Han River. While it is clear that he’s making a monster movie, Joon-ho is interested in making something that is typical as he’s more concerned about the family where he often has intimate moments where the family gather around to discuss their plans and also about each other. Even as there’s scenes in the sewers where Hyun-seo tries to see what is going on and to find a working cell phone to talk to her family. Joon-ho would employ a lot of stylistic shots to create these moments that includes close-ups, group shots, and some very telling moments such as Nam-joo walking under the bridge to continue her search.
The direction also has a lot of moments that involve TV news reports as it establishes a lot of what is happening as it indicates that something isn’t right where it leads to a climatic moment involving protesters. It’s part of the film’s political commentary that reveals the sense of negligence that is involved with these situations as it is further established by the film’s opening scene involving an American doctor and his Korean assistant. Even as another American would end up playing a key part of the story that would drive Gang-du to escape a second time and save his daughter leading to a much bigger climax involving the monster and family. Overall, Joon-ho creates a truly intense and engaging film that does a lot more than what it is expected in its genre.
Cinematographer Kim Hyung-ku does wonderful work with the film‘s photography from the brooding lighting schemes in the sewer scenes to the exterior settings in the rain to play out the film‘s melancholic mood. Editor Kim Sun-min does brilliant work with the editing to play up the element of suspense and drama as well as using some stylish jump-cuts in a scene between Hyun-seo and Se-joo. Production designer Ryu Seong-hie does nice work with the few set pieces created such as the hospital rooms and the snack bar trailer that Gang-du and his father work at.
Visual effects supervisor Kevin Rafferty does some excellent work with the look of the monster as it does have this larger-than-life presence that plays a lot into the film‘s story. Sound designers Coll Anderson and Sean Ganhart do terrific work with the sound from the chaos that surrounds the crowd scenes as the monster attacks to the more intimate moments between the family. The film’s music by Lee Byung-woo is fantastic for its orchestral-driven score to play up the suspense and drama as it features swelling string arrangements and bombast as it’s definitely one of the film’s highlights.
The casting by John Jackson is superb for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small roles from Scott Wilson as a U.S. military doctor, Yoon je-moon as a homeless man Nam-il meets, Lee Jae-eung as Se-joo’s older brother Se-jin, and Lim Phil-sung as a friend of Nam-il who lets him into the building to trace Hyun-seo’s phone call. Lee Dang-ho is very good as the young boy Se-joo who deals with being captured by the monster as he starts to get ill from hunger. Go Ah-sung is excellent as Hyun-seo who deals with being captured by the monster as she tries to get out and help Se-joo.
Park Hae-il is wonderful as the frustrated Nam-il who tries to deal with his own alcoholism and the screw-ups that happens as he later becomes a more competent person as the film progress. Boona Dae is great as Nam-joo who tries to deal with her own flaws as an archer while becoming more determined to get the job done. Byeon Hee-bong is terrific as the family patriarch Hee-bong who rallies the family to come together while ensuring that they have to stick together for the sake of Hyun-seo. Finally, there’s Song Kang-ho in a marvelous performance as Gang-du as he is the one character that many believe couldn’t get things done but his determination to save his daughter makes his performance an unforgettable one as he goes through everything to find the monster with the help of his family.
The Host is an incredible film from Bong Joon-ho that features an outstanding ensemble cast and a premise that is truly compelling to watch. It’s a film that definitely does a lot more than what the monster movie promises while it’s also a film that explores the world of family and the political corruption they have to deal with while trying to save one of their own. In the end, The Host is a remarkable film from Bong Joon-ho.
Bong Joon-ho Films: Barking Dogs Never Bite - Memories of Murder - Tokyo!: Shaking Tokyo - Mother - Snowpiercer - The Auteurs #44: Bong Joon-ho
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