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Movie Review: The Host

March 6th, 2007

The Host is a South Korean film released in its native market last year. After earning amazing reviews, the film went on to have a record-breaking run, eventually selling 13 million tickets. That works out to an average of one in four people in the country seeing the movie. That's practically Titanic-like numbers. Now it is coming to the United States, and, unusually, not as a remake, but in its original form. The film opens on March 9. But will it be able to work the same magic here?

The Host is, on the surface, a simple monster movie in the same vein as Godzilla, right down to its origins. Both films were based on real life events. ... No, that's not quite right. Inspired? Nope, still too strong. ... Motivated. Both films were motivated by real life events.

The original Godzilla, or Gojira as it is sometimes called, was a reaction to the nuclear attacks against Japan, which is why the monster was first woken up by American nuclear bomb tests in the Pacific Ocean. The Host was made after an incident in 2000 when a mortician at an U.S. military base in Seoul dumped a large amount of formaldehyde down the drain. Practically the same events happen at the beginning of the movie, but the rest is fiction.

Or is it?

Yes. Yes it is. But it's very entertaining fiction.

Without giving away too much more than you would learn from the trailer, The Host tells the story of a family who suffers a loss at the hand of the monster mutant and decide to take revenge. However, this is not a family of special ops assassins who have been trained to kill and are going to kick ass and chew bubble gum. This is an average family, or perhaps a little below average in the case Park Gang-du. The head of the family is Hee-bong, who runs a snack stand along with his perpetually napping son, the aforementioned Park Gang-du, who only seems alive when his daughter is near, Hyun-seo. The other members of the family are Park Gang-du's sister, national archer Nam-joo, and his unemployed brother, Nam-il. After the initial attack, Hyun-seo is captured and eaten by the monster, but a late night phone call shows she is alive and when then police don't believe then, they decide to fight it themselves and rescue Hyun-seo.

A lot of monster movies like to hide the creature for most of the movie. It helps build the tension and make things scarier. This is not one of those films. Within the first 15 minutes of the movie we see the monster, full on rampage, nothing hidden about it. I won't describe the monster, mainly because I wouldn't be able to do it justice, but I would love to hear how it was designed, what inspired its look. (I guess I'll have to wait till the DVD comes out to see that.) This is not a horror movie, it is more of an action film with elements of comedy and drama as well. It's about a family coming together to fight for one of its own. Yes, there are some political elements to the movie, but it's mostly the story about what a family would do to save one of their own.

There's a lot going for the film, including very well shot action scenes, a really cool creature (I love the way it moves), humor that plays particularly well to those knowledgeable with movie cliches ("Tell us what's going on." "It should be on the news." -flips channels- "It's not on."). I don't know if that's enough to overcome its obstacles to commercial success: it's a little long, it’s in a foreign language, and there may be a couple of cultural issues. But while mass appeal might escape the film during its theatrical release, I think it will grab $5 million or so and become a big hit on the home market. And yes, it will make enough to convince some studio to remake it. Hopefully they won't butcher it. I already know a few changes that will happen, but I can't discuss those without spoiling the movie.

I definitely recommend seeing this movie in the theaters, and hopefully there will be a fully fleshed out DVD. I'm looking forward to adding it to my collection.

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