The Host / Gwoemul (2006)
Dir: Joon-ho Bong
Sci-Fi monster horror… Gangnam style!
Firstly, this is not to be confused with the 2013 film of the same name starring Saoirse Ronan, the two really aren’t linked in any way other than their English language titles. The original Korean title ‘Gwoemul’ literally translates as ‘Monster’ and that’s what this film is, a blockbuster monster movie in the same genre as things like ‘Godzilla’, however with a comedic streak and a few elements of Korean satire added in.
The Park family run a food stall on the banks of the Han river, but when a mutated fish-like creature bursts out of the waters one day and attacks people, taking young Hyun-seo with it back to its lair. Her family, inept father, again grandfather, academic uncle and sporting aunt are brought together by the situation, and are determined to rescue her, despite the military’s attempts to stop them.
The film set records in South Korea, having a wider release than usual, and gaining huge audiences. Apparently the North Koreans approved of this film too thanks to its criticism of the American military. Aspects of the story were inspired by real events, such as the opening scene where a Korean mortician is told to pour dangerous chemicals down the drain by his superior, a U.S. officer, causing the creature’s mutation.
As with almost any hugely succesful foreign-language film now, it was quickly snapped up for an American remake. Interesting in this case as they’ll have to change a good deal of the critical aspects of the storyline, possibly this is the reason why news on the production has gone quiet.
With special effects done by WETA and the company behind Iron Man’s HUD, they really stand up pretty well in comparison to many in low-budget films. Especially considering that the monster is seen in full view a number of times, not kept in the shadows and hidden until a climactic reveal as is often the case.
The film also makes good use of humour, mixing that in with the disastrous storyline in a good way to help create a bond with the family at the center of the story, which seems to work. At first I wasn’t sure about them, there was no instant love for the characters, but by the end I was really rooting for them. The film is fantastic in not softening all its punches, there are tragic moments, and the end is not an ideal solution to all their problems, but that’s part of what makes it work so well.