A horrible monster has been growing in the polluted waters of the Han River and it snatches a school girl from her family. Unable to get any assistance from the authorities, the family is determined to get her back on their own, no matter what it takes...
I've heard many a good thing about the South Korean film The Host. Due to financial and time reasons I don't buy or watch anywhere near as many Asian films as I used to, but made special effort to ensure I bought this one due to the praise I'd read concerning it. It is a big monster type film, but with a different approach angle to your usual film of this genre, which is possibly why The Host got as much recognition as it has.
After watching the film, I'll be honest, I was a little disappointed. Where was this celluloid marvel that I had read about? All I saw was a decent film that entertained but failed to overly enthuse. Sadly the hype had affected my expectations and The Host had failed to meet them. With retrospect I think the film was a little better than I perceived it to be on viewing, but I still do not think it is the great film I've read about elsewhere.
The Host is a monster movie. Don't expect Godzilla or the like here as the monster is more what's happening in the film, rather than the focus. The focus is fairly dysfunctional family consisting of an older father, Park Hee-bong, who runs a food stall by the Han River with one his sons, Park Gang-du (song Kang-ho), his other two children - a son, Park Nam-il (Park Hae-il) who is an unemployed graduate drunk and a daughter, Park Nam-joo (Bae Doo-na), who is a hotshot Korean archer - and Gang-du's daughter Hyun-seo (Ko Ah-seong). This approach kind of reminded me of the recent Hollywood remake of War Of The Worlds where the focus was also on the characters and how the behaved with the extraordinary events going on around them, and this is an approach I thoroughly approve of and enjoy. I believe by having people as the main focus and not the monster enables the film-makers to give their film more depth, emotion and soul than they would otherwise. If the monster, or alien, is the main focus there is far more temptation to make the film an all singing, all dancing, shiny special effects extravaganza with lots of explosions and the like.
With the film choosing to focus on the people being affected, rather than the monster, they made a great choice, but still I felt the film failed to deliver as well as it could have. The reason for this is I think some parts of the plot were rather contrived so that the film-makers could get the family doing what they wanted them to do. The whole basis for the family's actions is that Gang-du received a certain phone call in the middle of the night which made him and the rest of the family realise that someone was not dead, however when they reported this news to all people in positions of authority they were not believed and were considered to be crazy. Yes it advanced the plot, but surely someone, anyone would have been able to just look at the phone, check received calls etc. and find out that he might not have been crazy after all. It was just too convenient for the film and it, well, annoyed me. A similar feeling of annoyance was also building in me a little earlier in the film, when the family are grieving the death of a close person. In all the Korean films I've seen, I don't think I can recall any where there has been a convincingly acted crying scene. Crazy First Love contained one of the worst I've seen so far, but now I've got to put The Host firmly in the list. I started to get embarrassed at watching because it just seemed so fake. Crying on screen is one area I really hope Korean cinema starts to improve in.
Those two factors are the majority of my complaints about The Host. There are some other little niggles in the running time, like bad attempts at humour, but on the whole the rest of the film is fairly solid however never reaches into the greatness levels that I was hoping for. The character interaction is generally good and quite believable, despite the occasional feuding family exterior, the hunting of the monster is entertaining and the side-plot regarding the Government's handling of the events and possible cover-ups and conspiracies is intriguing. Being quite cynical, I think it is possibly not too far from real life. When put together, all these elements give an entertaining film that is a good watch, but it is unlikely to have the long lasting or memorable impact that other films the cast starred in have had.
Audio & Subtitles
Korean DTS was the name of the game regarding my choice of audio. It sounded good throughout, with use of all the surround speakers and good volume balance. All effects and speech were clear and the bass boomed where necessary. My only critical comment would be that I recall thinking that the rear surrounds could have been used a little more than they were.
The English subtitles were excellent. I cannot remember seeing any grammar or spelling errors and each line of text was on screen long enough to be read.
Image quality was excellent throughout. Colours were vibrant, black levels seemed very good, there was no speckles or other marks on the film print and I there was a only a little touch of graininess evident. Given how recent the film is I would have been very disappointed had it been not as good.
DVD & Extras
This is a barebones release with no extras and crap cover-art, in my opinion. It comes with an outer slipcase for the DVD case.
The Host is a film worth watching as it is entertaining, but it is not an amazing film. It has caring, it has more depth than your typical monster film, but it lacks the extra oomph, the va-va voom to bring it among the heavy weights of the film world.