Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Host

The verdict: A light-hearted monster movie from Korea, but the occasional laughs are outweighed by a meandering, ponderous storyline.

The rating: 5/10

Ah yes, the monster movie. Hollywood has churned out it's fair share of em, and Asian cinema is probably renowned for the genre. But it's been more than a few years since the threat of a big bad monster could capture the imagination of cinema audiences on the scale of some of the recent Hollywood Cinematic behemoths. So, while 'Transformers' brazenly rakes in the box office takings, a fun monster movie like 'Slither' humbly sneaks into the DVD bargain bin with nary a whimper.

The movie critics may bemoan this fact, studied as they are in the history of trashy cinema from 1950's Hollywood and Japan, where monster movies were a staple of the art. However, this style of movie harks back to a simpler time, when broadband was a type of y-front waistline, and a gigabyte was something Gojira did to Mothra. The heyday of monster movies recalls a time when going to the movies of a Saturday was an event, and seeing Godzilla trash a cardboard city on the big screen was new and exciting. These days, we mock poor special effects, used as they are even in music videos.. (such as this Beastie Boys classic) No, in the 21st century, we like our monsters to be real, and if possible, graphically violent, if the huge success of the recent crop of 'torture porn' style horror movies is anything to go by.

The Host is an old-school monster movie, in that the monster isn't simply attacking and killing innocent victims. In this type of monster movie, the creature is created by humans, and simply tries to survive. Godzilla was a product of nuclear explosions, but this creature is caused by an altogether more mundane human failing, when chemicals are dumped into Seoul's Han river.

Rather than building tension as to what the monster looks like, or perhaps give us the occasional night-time glimpse for the first half an hour or so, the makers of 'The Host' take the ballsy approach of revealing the creature in the first ten minutes of the movie. This scene is one of the best in the film, where the creature goes on a large-scale river-side rampage, trashing all in it's wake.

The plot centres around the hapless Gang-Du, played by the ever-versatile Kang Ho-Song. This guy has really mixed it up over the years, and features in two previous reviews from PCMR's Asian Season: 'Shiri' the popcorn cop flck, and 'Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance' the nightmarish revenge fable. In this movie, Kang Ho-Song's character is something of a loser and a dimwit, but as we learn later, there's a reason for his dopey ways. He lives with his young daughter, athlete sister and browbeaten father in a trailer by the bank of the Han river selling snacks, the Korean equivalent of an ice-cream truck I guess, if the ice-cream was fried squid that is.

Aanyway, Gang-Du's daughter Hanseo, is taken by the creature, and he has to get her back. And therein lies the story of 'The Host'. His sister's archery skills come in handy, as do his father's wiles (and life savings) and eventually the creature is faced down.

The creature itself is done well, and the scenes where it rampages through the crowds are excellent, but there is far to much of the movie where the monster isn't even a threat. Also, there is a lot of comedy in this movie, and I'm afraid the effect of it was lost on me a little, given that I was watching the dubbed version, and all the male characters sounded quite similar (rounded and well pronounced generic american accents... tsk).

So the tension is created with the reveal of the monster, but relieved once we find out Hanseo is alive. From that moment on, the movie just seemed to meander. In a format as tried and tested as this, there needs to be a few surprises involved to hold the interest of the audience, and, sadly, there weren't many to be found in this movie.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the release of 'The Host' on these shores, but sadly, in my opinion, the strong opening scenes promise much but deliver little, and this film is ultimately a little more Godzuki than Godzilla.

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