Directed by Bong Joon-ho. Starring Song Kang-ho, Byeon Hie-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Du-na, Ko Ah-sung. (2006, NR, 119 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 23, 2007
Not since the height of the Cold War has Asian cinema produced a creature feature with anything near the reptilian, realpolitik resonance of Godzilla. (The only producer crazy enough to try his hand at a palace coup on Monster Island has been North Korean film buff-cum-Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, who ended up kidnapping director Shin Sang-ok from the South to helm the legendarily bizarre Pulgasari – and look where that got him.) So it comes as a welcome surprise that Bong's manic monster party, The Host, is both a clever updating of the Japanese kaiju eiga (literally "monster movie") genre, complete with what looks to be an oversized catfish from hell rampaging through the Seoul cityscape, and a witty and oftentimes endearingly sweet look at what's left of South Korea's post-Atomic Age nuclear family. As the doughy, layabout father, Park Gang-du, Song gives a loose-limbed, borderline slapstick performance that unexpectedly doubles as a fully contained master class in comic nuance and subtlety. Early on, in a perfectly constructed sequence that serves to introduce both the titular creature and Gang-du's thoroughly modern, thoroughly dysfunctional family, youngest daughter Hyun-seo (Ko) is left behind in the fog of panic and finds herself deposited back in the creature's lair for, presumably, a late-night snack. After contacting her family via a cell phone borrowed from a handy nearby corpse, the Park clan sets out to rescue one of their own, even as the authorities (and, it is pointedly noted, the Americans) bungle the creature's capture and put the lives of thousands of South Koreans at even further risk. An action-horror-monster movie-comedy like no other, The Host is a freewheeling mix of high style and goofy, good-natured fear-mongering. It's a direct descendent of The Blob and Yoshimitsu Banno's 1971 eco-freakout Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster that artfully (and sometimes hilariously) digs beneath the touchstones of our paranoid global zeitgeist and comes up with not only a fistful of nervous pools of fear but also a heady wellspring of classic monster-movie matinee fun.