SPOILRE WARNERING: Some discussion of the ending of this Korean Monster movie will happen. You have been warned.
Gwoemul or The Host
The director of the Host, Joon-ho Bong, has been making a big deal of how much of an admirer of Steven Spielberg that he is. I am not certain how much of that is telling North American audiences what they want to hear, because the other story about The Host that I have heard is that Joon-Ho Bong sold the movie with a drawing of Godzilla in the han river and this film owes much more to the Godzilla movies than it does to Jaws.
Specifically, unlike Jaws, the monster is not hidden. He emerges early and often. Aside from two brief prologues, the entire opening sequence of The Host is the emergence of the monster from the Han river and his rampage through the picnic-goers.
Also, in the same way that the Godzilla movie implicitly critize the US and especially the US military by attributing Godzilla's origin to nuclear radiation, The Host criticizes the US military by tracing the origin of the monster to illegal dumping of formaldehyde by the US military (based on a real incident.) The film also takes a pot-shot at the US and media in general by referencing the hysteria over the Asian Bird Flu after one of the victims of the monster dies and his death is attributed to a virus caught from the monster rather than the fact that his arm had gotten chewed off.
This victim, an off-duty US serviceman, balances the Anti-Americanisms on display in other parts of the film through his courage in confronting the monster in the opening reel along with lead actor Kang-ho Song (my avatar is Kang-ho Song as the Foul King.) The implication seems to be that the US military as an organization and as some of its individuals is out of control, but some of the individual members of the US military are heroic.
Kang-Ho Song plays a strong but narcoleptic single Dad, Park Gang-Du, who runs a canteen by the Han river with his father and daughter. A lot of reviews of this film call Park Gang-Du a bad father. I think that this a bit of an over-reaction. He does have a certain lazy Jughead aura to him, but he clearly loves his daughter and she is very fond of him. He does offer his young daughter a beer early in the film, but I do not think that carries the same automatic cultural label of a bad Father that it would here, although the movie does register the shocked reaction of his daughter. The film also explains away his narcolepsy later in the film by suggesting that it is related to malnutrition during his childhood.
During the chaos of the monster attack, Park Gang-Du gets seperated from his daughter (when his daughter falls, he grabs the hand of another child by mistake) and she is dragged away by the monster.
The river area is immediately quarantined by the military and Park Gang-Du and his father are forced to abandon their home. They are reunited in mourning by the rest of their dysfunctional family, including Park Gang-Du's younger sister who is the Korean archery bronze medallist and would be gold if she was not such a perfectionist constantly losing points because she takes too long to make her shots, and by Park Gang-Du's younger brother who is the scholar of the family, but completely unemployable because of his participation in anti-government protests while he was a student.
No points for guessing that a bow and arrow will feature in the climax. It is slightly suprising however that the protestor's experience in making Molotov cocktails will become important.
The film ranges in tone from farce to thriller. While not really scary, there are a number of creepy moments related to the daughter who is assumed to be dead, but has instead been dumped in the monster's pantry where she scavenges the dead bodies around here looking for working cell-phones to call for help and anything else that she can use to escape. She is eventually joined by a young boy, who along with his older brother were raiding her father's canteen for food when the monster snatches them killing the older brother.
Quick Other Movie Digression
As a kid, I saw the film Grizzly, an inferior land version of Jaws that did have three great bravura creature kill sequences that somewhat redeemed the movie in much the same way that inventive Freddy Krueger sequences save many of the otherwise terrible Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. (In case it matters, the only Nightmare movies worth a damn all have Heather Langenkamp in them.)
The first sequence has two amorous campers getting undressed and disappearing under a waterfall to frolic. After some screams, the water turns to blood leaving little doubt as to the fate of the campers. Later in the movie, a park ranger climbs a fire spotting tower to evade the Grizzly only to discover that being on top of a fifty foot pole will not save you when the monster chasing you is strong enough to knock down the pole. Finally, near the end of the film one of the characters that we had presumed dead wakes up to find himself lightly buried. Earlier in the film, we had been told that Grizzlies sometimes bury their food for later. The victim desperately digs himself out hoping against hope that he can get away before the Grizzly gets peckish and comes back for his lunch.
Any monster movie lives and dies with its monster and The Host is a great one. In places, the CGI effect is noticeable and detracts slightly from the film, but the monster is incredibly agile in a way that only a true animal could be and has animal habits that disturb as well as frighten. (Like the aforementioned pantry.)
The only unity in Park Gang-Du's family is their love for his daughter. The family comes apart first mourning her and then trying to rescue her when she places a midnight rescue call using a cell phone that she has scavenged from one of the monster's victims. The family comes back together in the climax of the movie.
If I had a criticism of the film, it would be that it drags a bit in the middle and part of this has to do with the family first escaping the quarantine, then some members being recaptured and having to escape all over again.
There is a US remake being worked on. It is hard to see how the remake would work since most of the charm of this movie comes from the Korean cultural referants.
I definitely would not call this episode a step down. In fact, it made me ponder for a second if Heroes has overtaken LOST as my favorite show on TV. The Niki/DL fight was badass (what'd he do? stop her lungs? her heart?