Friday, January 18, 2008

The Host (Gwoemul, 2006)

It is very difficult to categorize The Host. At first it has a Jaws-like feeling, which dissipates as soon as the 'monster' graces our screen. It then morphs into a very black satire and ends with an emotional intensity worthy of the last 15 minutes of Dancer in the Dark - perhaps not a good analogy, but you get the idea. Oh, and lest we forget, it is a valid political statement.

It starts off with a fussy American scientist telling his subordinate to dump toxic material through the drain. Why? Because the bottles are dusty. Fast forward to a few years to the Park family. This is a dysfunctional family, who realize that what held them together was the teenager Hyun-seo. Her narcoleptic father, homely grandfather, drunk uncle, and professional archer aunt gather in a sports facility along with the other victims' relatives. The scenes are starkly familiar to the Superdome clips immediately after Katrina. The bleak mood soon disappears once the Parks begin their loud and, frankly, rather ludicrous mourning. I might be missing something here in terms of cultural difference, but this form of exaggeration is a pattern that is used throughout the film. Oh, and the Government insist that whoever came into contact with the monster is contagious.

Unable to wait any longer, the Parks escape and hunt for the monster to save their youngest family member. From this point on, the film switches moods even more. The grandfather dies along the way and the Government officials, with the help of the United States, capture Hyun-seo's father. His uncle continues his search with clandestine methods. The end sees the surviving family reuniting to kill the monster once and for all. Meanwhile, the United States government forces the Korean government to use Agent Yellow. Confused? I'm just skimming over the plot lines here.

Despite this convoluted and implausible plot, the film delivers its political message loud and clear. Too unsubtle it may be, but there is something deeply moving about the film. The Parks become extremely vulnerable and you actually start feeling for them. I don't want to give away the ending, but it is not a happy one. Or, it depends how you look at it. I just hope that they don't make a sequel to it.

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