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.
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.
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).
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.