After seeing two of South Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s films (Snowpiercer and Parasite), I became intrigued by his earlier work. This led me to his 2006 film The Host, which was luckily available on Netflix. I could sense a familiarity in the filmmaking style but in comparison to this movie, director Bong Joon Ho has evolved greatly into one master storyteller.
Synopsis: Park Gang Du (Song Kang Ho) is a simpleton who mans a convenience store near the Han River for a living, along with his elderly father Hee Bong (Byun Hee Bong) and middle school daughter Hyun Seo (Go Ah Sung). When a mysterious creature emerges from the river and goes amuck at parkgoers, Gang Du tries to go against the monster to no avail. Unfortunately, the monster goes after his daughter and they believe that she is among those who perish in the attack. However, after receiving a phone call from his daughter, Gang Du goes on a mission to save Hyun Seo from the monster, aided by the only people who believe him — his father, brother Nam Il (Park Hae Il) and Nam Joo (Bae Doona).
I liked the storytelling style of Bong Joon Ho for The Host. He effectively established the origins of the monster and laid the blame at the feet of mankind, whose irresponsible acts caused the contamination of the Han River and gave birth to the creature. It was unclear though, what the goal of the monster was in abducting the people because the story never quite explored its ulterior motive.
As panic ensues over the perceived virus that people allegedly contracted from the monster, the government grasps at straws on how to contain the damage and quell the danger, leading to even more chaos as the public panics at an imaginary disaster. All the while, a family is bound together by a common goal, saving the one person they all hold dear and stake everything they have on blind faith. I loved the family element, especially the role of the family patriarch Hee Bong.
While it was funny to see his dramatic moment go to waste because his kids don’t really care what he had to say, he was always trying to protect all of his children and minding their welfare the whole time. It was a touching portrayal from Kdrama vet Byun Hee Bong (whom I remember fondly from Pinocchio). Hee Bong was also very consistent with the single minded determination of Gang Du in saving his daughter. In a sense, both fathers share a common devotion to their children even despite their limited means. The fact that the siblings all came together and used their skills to defeat the monster in the end was a fitting conclusion to their journey and a proper tribute to the father who risked all for his family.
The Host was a perfect marriage of technical and dramatic. The film had great cinematography even though the CGI was not as flawless in 2006. It utilized great camera shots and established scenes with proper distancing pacing. Even in the midst of a stampede, the film kept its focus on the essential characters, never missing a beat and never letting the audience get dizzy with shaky cam shots (which I hate). The film also had a great sense of timing, building up on the tension before embarking on a major standoff involving the members of the Park family and their numerous adversaries.
As a result, The Host, in the space of some two hours, effectively delivered its message and asked the question of who the real monsters are — the people who abuse nature and try to cover up their tracks with propaganda and blame, or the actual monsters created by humans? In the midst of all these, audiences connect with the idea that in a crisis, the poor are left with no voice unless they take action on their own. When Gang Du lashed out and said that no one ever listened to him, it was a truth so often overlooked in society. Authorities easily dismiss their mistakes with platitudes and cover up their errors with conspiracy theories but at the end of the day, those who are helpless are left even more so in the aftermath of these unexplained events.
The Host, more than a monster movie, was an eye opener. Despite the presence of a fictional creature, the terror is felt just as the same as audiences connect with the story on a deeper level than its sci fi premise.