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THE HOST
2 Disc Collector's Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Song Kang Ho, Byun Hee Bong, Park Hae Il, Bae Doo Na, Ko A Sung
Director:  Bong Joon-Ho
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0 (Korean and English)
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Magnolia Pictures
Features:  See Review
Length:  119 Minutes
Release Date:  July 24, 2007

“She’s deceased…but she’s not dead!”

Film *1/2

The Host (Gwoemul) left me scratching my head like very few films of late.  This was the Korean film getting compared to Jaws and called one of the greatest monster movies ever made.  For my own part, I didn’t much get it at all…it was confusing, awkward, and ultimately made very little point, but it does confirm a theory I’ve been developing for years:  all a filmmaker has to do to get international acclaim, even here in the States, is to make a movie that’s decidedly anti-America, and he’ll strike gold in terms of bedwetting praise.

Yes, Americans create the monster by dumping chemicals into the Han River.  Yes, Americans cover it up by calling it a host to a deadly virus.  There’s even a scene where an American scientist, all cockeyed and leering, tells the evil plan to his underling and all that’s missing is a Renfield styled laugh to finish taking it over the top.  And yes, Americans deal with the problem in a way that causes everyone to hate them, by fighting the monster with a deadly chemical called Agent Yellow.

In the midst of it all is the story of a dysfunctional and inept family.  The father runs a snack stand with his (I suppose) narcoleptic son.  His other son is an unemployed college boy.  The sister is a champion archer who loses her chance at a gold medal because she can’t get her shot off before the clock expires.  The only hope is the granddaughter, but as fate would have it, the creature snags her while her dad grabs the wrong girl by mistake.

The family goes after the monster once the father realizes her daughter is still alive and in the Korean sewer system somewhere.  But even that is a painful excursion.  They spend more money than they have to get themselves a clean-up van that fools nobody, and when they split up, they have no more luck apart than together.  At one point, the college boy has a chance with some Molotov cocktails to do the beast in, but he fouls that up so badly that I screamed at the screen, “What the @#%$ is wrong with this family??”  causing my girlfriend to laugh out loud.  Seriously, all that was missing was a yellow VW bus with a constantly beeping horn.

The beast is an impressive creation; part puppet, part CGI, but huge, ugly, and effectively menacing, because we never really know what it is, what it wants, or what it’s doing, apart from a shocking scene involving some regurgitation.  You might want to make sure you’re boned up for that one.

I guess all in all, it makes about as much sense as the classic Godzilla films, where radiation always awakens the prehistoric beast to trash miniature sets and wreak havoc.  Now we have much more intricate special effects on par with more highly budgeted and overblown Western productions, but that doesn’t equate to a film that makes any more sense.

The Godzilla movies were at least, for the most part, harmless cheesy fun.  I can’t use those words to describe The Host, which goes for humor in wince-inducing ways and with strange timing.  There is a dark feel to it all, making some of the horror truly effective and unsettling…you can’t take for granted anyone is safe in the film, and that’s something I as a horror fan generally appreciate.

But other than the fact that yes, Americans are the real villains, and I guess that makes the big murdering slug just…misunderstood, I suppose, what really does the picture offer?  Make the same movie but change the Americans to French, and I’d wager my bottom dollar that the accolades would have disappeared like the creature into the Han River.  Make them into al-Qaida, and I certainly wouldn’t have liked it any better.

We will undoubtedly reach a point where critics will actually start demanding something substantive of their movies again; where they will actually say, sure, it rightfully ravishes America and makes her military out to be bloodthirsty looters and pillagers, but what else?  

BONUS TRIVIA:  Scott Wilson plays the evil American who authorizes the chemical dump that gets the whole thing going.

Video ***

This transfer handles the material well…a lot of it is dark, but there’s never a problem with loss of definition.  There’s a smattering of grain here and there, and a touch of noticeable compression in the margins, but nothing too distracting.  A solid effort overall.

Audio ***1/2

I recommend the original Korean track…the English dubbing is horrible.  The Korean 5.1 track is also better mixed and more lively, with effective use of the subwoofers and rear channels, opening up the big action scenes that get the picture started and end it as well.

Features ****

The double disc special edition is quite loaded…the first disc features commentary with director Bong Joon-Ho, and reflections with the director, which mostly consists of his polite apologies to cast members who got left on the cutting room floor because certain scenes were not used.  But hey, this disc also includes deleted scenes, so DVD means never having to say you’re sorry!

The second disc has a making-of featurette, as well as ones on the sewer, set design, special effects, sound effects, designing the creature, puppet animatronix, animation, crew production, and actor training.  There are cast and crew goodbyes, a gag reel, casting tapes, and storyboards as well.

Summary:

I suppose there’s an amusing irony to the fact that an Asian film comes out ripping America as polluters right when China has overtaken the United States on that front.  Irony would have been better served in the film itself.  The Host is impressive looking but ultimate frustrating, confusing and pointless, though if you get your jollies seeing the States raked over the coals, be my guest.

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