Written by: Bong Joon-ho, Ha Won-jun, Baek Chul-hyun
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona, Go Ah-sung, Oh Dal-su
As said in the bible and typically agreed as a living to go by, we reap what we sow. Meaning what we put in generally impacts what we get out of things in life, which humanity must face eventually in the reckoning of the way we have treated this planet. Several films have tried to tackle this eventuality through literal and metaphorical means with The Host serving as one of the best with a bit of monster action and strong emotionally strident moments.
Working for an American, Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) is instructed to pour out 200 bottles of formaldehyde down a sink with the knowledge of the impact it would have on the environment. A few years later, a large monster comes out of the Han River and takes Gang-du’s daughter, Hyun-seo (Go ah-sung) to an unknown place. With the government trying to cover up the cause of the monster’s arrival, Gang-du and the rest of his family do what it takes to get Gang-du’s daughter back.
The best of monster flicks generally have an underlying message in what the monster represents causing havoc on the people where it resides. This goes all the way back to Frankenstein and Godzilla, with their representations of man’s hubris and the nuclear bomb in Japan respectively. If you thought Bong Joon-ho would make a monster film without it having a point then you would sadly be mistaken and what he manages to create in this feature works wonders on a story level because it speaks on more than just what the monster represents, but also how the government reacts to it. Bring in a mix of American influence with the Korean way of life and you have a captivating tale on your hands.
Guiding us through this story is Gang-du, who generally wears the tag of being an underachiever with his highest ambition coming from operating a snack bar. Magnificently portrayed by the always-great Song Kang-ho, he immediately garners the audience’s sympathy and it only gets amplified when the monster takes his daughter. The search to find her comes with so many obstacles with the monster itself not being the biggest one, unfortunately.
America’s influence in Asia, in general, certainly has its ups and horrendous lows with the Vietnam War and the atomic bomb dropping in Japan ranking as probably the worst. It definitely means the western nation does not have the best reputation, in general, within this continent, which makes their involvement in trying to cover up the dangers of this monster all the more suspicious. Their persistence on the matter helps with the general issue of climate change and how the United States has long been one of the nations harming the planet in the worst ways and mostly doing nothing in order to try and rectify the situation. Their inclusion of the story adds more richness to the tale and another layer of what this family must go through in order to get past the red tape to save a small child from a literal monster.
With its design, the monster has this amphibian look, which makes it look similar to the animals we have here but obviously exaggerated in a way to make it very intimidating. This particular design has the intention of not making it look like some alien that landed here on Earth but more so a creature made through neglect as caretakers of this planet and continuing the theme of us reaping what we sow with our negligence. With Hyun-Seo surviving and seeing how the monster operates when not attacking others, we receive a bit more perspective as to how it operates but it mostly remains a mystery, and rightfully so. All we need is that the monster brings plenty of danger and the only response humanity can come up with in order to do away with something we directly made is to kill it with more damage. Go figure, and this film really knocks it out of the park here.
Navigating both the harrowing and emotionally resonant moments of the feature, Bong Joon-ho just forever impresses with his films. At the time of this review, the man has not made a bad film because he knows how to weave his social messaging with fantastic storytelling to where even if the point feels on the nose, it gets told with such precision it doesn’t even matter. Watching any of his films feels like an event and The Host certainly does not defect from it. Typically in monster films, the humans serve as a distraction with the audience mostly wanting to see said monster in action, but like in Jaws, the humans remain the heart and soul with minimal sightings of the monster throughout the feature. This filmmaker always has a masterful control of the tone of his stories and the way he navigates between the emotion and the horror aspects just continues to solidify this assertion.
A genuinely thrilling and enthralling moving picture, The Host brings everything people love about monster flicks and turns it up to 100. The humans actually have emotional arcs they must complete and nothing truly gets overblown, instead it becomes about what causes the monster’s inclusion into our world and the way humanity reacts to it. Simply a supreme watch and one with so much heart in it that any cynicism about human corruption regarding the cover-up gets melted away because it remains the tale of a family trying to save a loved one.