As of the time of publishing, this film is available for streaming on Netflix US.
You should be paying attention to the world of South Korean cinema.
I’ve been saying this to anybody who will listen. I’ve been saying it for a few years now. And sure, like any country, there will be both good and bad films, but the peaks of SK cinema are absolutely amazing and criminally underseen. Park Chan-wook is arguably one of the greatest filmmakers working today, but my personal favorite is Bong Joon-ho. Snowpiercer rocked my world when I saw it for the first time, and Memories Of Murder is one of my favorite films to be released after 2000. While my review of the Netflix film Okja should be on it’s way (the film will already be available by the time this article is published), I’m taking us on a trip to what might be Bong Joon-ho’s most popular film: The Host.
First off, I’m not referring to the 2013 film The Host, which is an adaptation of a Stephanie Meyer post-apocalyptic YA novel. The correct film is from 2006, and it’s a good old fashioned monster movie. In a world where traditional monster movies have fallen to superhero flicks, the fact that this exists is great alone.
The Host begins with some reckless scientists dumping a massive amount of hazardous material down the sink drain, with little regard for where it will end up or how it will affect things. Right from the very beginning, The Host is already in tune with classic monster movies like the original 1954 Godzilla, which was more of a political commentary than a mindless blockbuster.
Naturally, this leads to an aquatic lifeform mutating just a little bit. It crawls out of the river and starts running amok in the middle of a big crowd. It slams people, grabs them up with it’s tail, or just eats them.
While the monster may be the star of the film, the story revolves around a family trying to survive through this crisis. The father (Song Kang-ho) is essentially our protagonist, though most of them are fairly equal. He is perpetually lazy and always seems to look for the bare minimum. His young daughter (Go Ah-sung) is taken by the monster in the initial rampage due to him losing track of her. His father (Byun Hee-bong) runs the little shop that the three of them spend most of their time at. His brother (Park Hae-il) is a recent college graduate who became an alcoholic after not being able to find a job. His sister (Bae Doona) is a nationally recognized archer.
While trying to stick together and formulate a plan to save his daughter, Song Kang-ho’s character is taken into quarantine for having come into contact with the monster. The family follows with him, meaning they are all held somewhat captive for a time. He receives a phone call from his daughter, who claims to be trapped in what looks like a sewer before the phone cuts off. Naturally, no one except for the family actually believes the story, so they all break out of the hospital. They steal a van and find some guns and attempt to find the monster. They find it much quicker than expected, but only manage to anger the beast. In the skirmish, the protagonist ends up arrested after his father is killed by the monster; the siblings escape but are separated.
Meanwhile, the daughter has made a new friend, as the monster brought him back alive. They keep hidden in a literal hole in the wall as she tries to figure out how to escape while the monster is away or asleep.
I’m not sure that I want to go any further, as it would be best experienced as a brand new thing. Even if you’ve already watched the film, I’ll leave the rest out in the open just in case (though I’d love to discuss it further in another venue perhaps).
The Host is the first South Korean film I ever watched, if I remember correctly. I’m sure that I was aware of Oldboy beforehand, but a short clip of the initial monster attack scene intrigued me so much that I went out of my way to find it. This film is what began my love of South Korean cinema as a broad idea, but it also catapulted Bong Joon-ho being my favorite South Korean director.
What Bong Joon-ho is able to do with The Host is remarkable. I’ve called out many films in the past for attempting to juggle too many tones and losing them all, but Bong is a master at this. This film is a tense monster movie, a dark family comedy, an environmental message, and a heist movie all wrapped up into one coherent story, and the balance work so damn well. He had already established this sort of style in Memories Of Murder, and he’d go on to play around with balancing dark themes and comedic moments even further in Mother.
The Host is a relatively easy introduction into the world of South Korean cinema, I would say. It’s certainly quirky in an unexpected way, but measured enough that it shouldn’t scare anyone away from it. I can not recommend this film enough, and I hope that more people experience it, especially with it being so easily available again.
The Host isn’t the only Bong Joon-ho film available on Netflix as of now. You can also watch Barking Dogs Never Bite, Mother, and his brand new film, Okja. I highly recommend all of them.