South Korean writer/director Bong Joon-Ho’s Gwoemul (The Host) is almost as good a political satire as it is a horror film. Inspired by the true case of a US military facility dumping formaldehyde in Seoul’s Han River, The Host shows one potential repercussion, “Monster Attack!” Monsters and political jabs aside, The Host is at its heart a story that puts an off-beat family’s love to the test with a catastrophic event.
Park Gang-Doo (Kang-ho Song) is a bored, thirtysomething, single-father who works at his father’s snack shack on the banks of the Han River. His father is the hardworking Park Hie-Bong (Hie-bong Byeon) and Park Gang-Doo’s siblings are Park Nam-Joo (Doona Bae) a pro archer and a former activist, now alcoholic businessmen, Nam-il (Park Hae-il). Life is simple until a gigantic tadpole-like creature (created by a US military incident) emerges from the Han river and takes Park Gang-Doo’s daughter Hyun-seo (Go Ah-Sung). What follows is the story of a dysfunctional family trying to stay together in the midst of chaos. It’s comedy, horror, and adventure rolled all into one.
Despite The Host being a monster hit in South Korea, it came out of nowhere for me. I remember seeing a random commercial for it on TV in March 2007. Not often that I see foreign movies advertised on local programming, especially foreign monster movies. I had to go, so I went with my brother and my dad to the Neptune Theater in Seattle (now a concert venue) and fell in love with this movie. Not only has it become one of my favorite horror movies of the 2000s but one of my favorite movies in general. It combines my love of monsters with a good character story, which is something I’ve been waiting for in a Godzilla movie for years. At this point, it doesn’t even matter if Japan ever gets a giant monster movie right, their neighbors beat them to it.
It is interesting that everyone is portrayed negatively in this movie – the government, the Americans, the protestors – except for the dysfunctional family, who end up sort of saving the day, although putting it like that might be a stretch. Interesting commentary on the power of individuals versus groups, I guess, but I mostly like watching a giant fish monster eat people.