Month: April 2015

The Host (2006)

The Host (2006) is not to be confused with the 2013 film of the same name that was directed by Andrew Niccol. The 2006 version is directed by Boon Joon-ho, whom went on to direct the rather impressive hit Snowpiercer. The Host is one of the biggest films (of course after the original Oldboy) to come out of South Korea and upon watching, it’s understandable why.

The film quickly picks up speed, unlike most monster films, as the monster is revealed in full view shortly into the film. It begins with an American (funnily enough) demanding one of his employees to dump formaldehyde into the sink which flows in the Han River, which is against the law in South Korea. Fast forward a few years where two men are fishing in the Han River and find a mutated fish, which isn’t shown. Fast forward again to 2006, when a man poised to jump off a bridge sees something dark underneath the water. He then jumps off the bridge after realising he’s surrounding by idiots.

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This explanation about the monsters origins is something that seems to being missing from monster films, such as Cloverfield and Super 8, as to where these monsters came from. Which I think helps with the whole comedy and drama mixed feel that Joon-ho Bong was heading for. What  also helped the situation was the casting, which I believe was an absolute masterstroke for the the Korean. (Even though admittedly sometimes the comedy outweighed the drama)

Apart from the mutated monster attacking residents of South Korea, the film centres on a family that own and operate a snack stall on Han River. It begins with the clumsy Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) asleep as people try to purchase things from his father’s stall. Gang-du is the single parent to Hyun-seo (Ah-Sung Ko) who later gets taken by the monster at the fault of Gang-du.

Gang-du’s estranged family comes together at the presumed death of Hyun-seo, as Gang-du’s heavy-drinking-college-graduated and also unemployed brother Nam-il (Park Hae-il) and his medal winning sister Nam-joo (Bae Doona). Gang-du receives a late night call from Hyun-seo telling him she is in a deep sewer somewhere and this leads to a clumsy brigade to attempt to rescue her, led by the clumsiest of them all Gang-du.

The Host sleeping

His clumsiness is always present in the film, as he constantly falls asleep at the most awkward times, is tripping over the mats and also of course, being at fault for the monster taking Hyun-seo and as they fall, he picks up another girls hand. (I cannot do the comedy part of it justice)

The comedy throughout the film mostly comes at the hands of Gang-du, and more situational as Gang-du gets crammed into a box-bag for ‘contamination’ purposes. But also at the hands of his family as he gets drop kicked by his brother Nam-il for letting Hyun-seo go as the family writhes on the floor in mourning (Also in comical fashion).

The Host works perfectly as a comedy and drama, due to the tragedy that happens in the family, but also with how the authorities try to deal with the monster from fumigating the river to waging chemical warfare on the creature with Agent Yellow. But of course the comedy that is infused into the film through Gang-du’s actions, and him being at the forefront for being comically responsible for two big events in the film (one of them is Hyun-seo being taken by the monster).

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Being truthful, this is one of my favourite foreign films, it’s an absolute joy to watch and standing at just a touch over 2 hours long, it doesn’t feel all that long. Although the story isn’t the most groundbreaking with the ending being expected (apart from one twist in the climax) it still works and flows nicely as a picture. Admittedly sometimes the comedy outweighs the dramatic pieces and we’re left with the image of Gang-du in his many comical situations, which seems very natural to his character.

8/10

Lost River (2015)

Lost River was a film that absolutely bombed at the film festival circuit and was received by largely negative reviews. This is Ryan Gosling trying his hand at directing side of things, what I expected from his film, was that it would be largely influenced by Nicholas Winding Refn, whom he has worked with on Drive and Only God Forgives. (There is actually a scene in My Life Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn where Refn gives Gosling a blanket after he learns he is set to direct his first film)

For this film Gosling assembled an extremely packed cast including Eva Mendes, Matt Smith, Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan and Ben Mendelsohn. However, leading the crew is Iain De Caestecker playing the role of Bones, the older son of Billy (Christina Hendricks) who reside in a lonely derelict area of Detroit, Michigan. Gosling establishes how bad the area is in the opening credits roll, showing empty buildings, schools and even vegetation taking control of the houses.

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The living condition and situation is set in place with the first conversation had between Bones and a neighbour leaving his home and heading elsewhere. He talks of fear and getting out of Lost River before he regrets it. This fear that runs amuck in Lost River is led by Bully (Matt Smith with a shaved head). The gas station scene with Bully and Mary Lou (aka Mama Aris) was a strange one to watch unfold as they go back and forth introducing themselves, until Bully gets offended. This isn’t before sharing a dance with her, it really is a strange scene.

This dancing on a knife-edge with Bully is present throughout the film as he seems like quite a on-edge character. For letting Bones go he cuts off his right-hand man’s lips, giving him a look that wouldn’t go amiss in the new Mad Max: Fury Road. The same goes for the the scene where he cuts off Rats head, simply for knowing bones after everything appeared to be going swimmingly between the two. This can be construed as a revenge act by Bully on Bones after their feud goes back and forth.

With the destruction of properties through fire or destruction by the government, it serves as a reminder that some places in the world face this reality, although probably not to the extreme that Gosling presents. The hard times that has fallen on Billy’s family leads Bones to strip copper from abandoned houses and sell it on, however with Bully roaming the streets screaming “This is my country, don’t let me see your motherfucking face again” inducing this panic and fear shadow that Bully casts. Which leads to my favourite scene of the film, the flaming bicycle and also the start of the aforementioned feud between Bully and Bones.

The Flaming Bicycle

The Flaming Bicycle

All the bad things that happen to Lost River is down to Rat’s superstition of the curse that has been placed on the town. Bones finds headlights that go down into a lake, to which Rat shows him the infomercial-esque video that explains about the towns being drowned by the reservoir. This placed a curse on the town and the curse is only broken by something underneath the water being brought to the surface.

Casting I thought was one of Gosling’s strengths in the film, as the whole cast I’d say gave a strong performance. From the rage-induced Matt Smith to even the creepy club-owner Ben Mendelsohn. One thing I didn’t have time for at all during this film was the feature of The Shelf, some place where the women in the club can make more money. I’m unsure of what the idea behind this purpose was, as it only added the mess and confusion of the film.

All in all, this film ultimately becomes a tale about revenge. Revenge for the pain and fear that Bully has cast over Lost River, but this fairytale revenge doesn’t actually occur, or gain traction until the last half hour, which is when the film builds up. Between the plot points there is a lot of empty ground or blank space.

Matt Smith as Bully

Matt Smith as Bully

One thing that can be said is that Gosling knew how to build suspense, even if it was in the last half hour of the film. From the gas station scene with Bully and Rat onwards, the suspense of Bones’ actions is built, climaxing with the final face off between the hero and villain so to speak.

The film is messy, incredibly messy. But there sparks of fascinating work by Gosling, some shots are beautiful, the effects are incredible with the horror/burlesque club showcased by the scene where Billy cuts off her own face. The music is tantilising especially the Chromatics theme where Rat and Bones are out on a ‘date’, but there are indications that the soundtrack was largely influenced by Drive. That isn’t a necessarily bad thing however, because Drive’s soundtrack was largely one of the best things about the film. One thing is clear from Lost River, I believe that Gosling has shown that he has potential as a director.

6/10