The Host (2006)
Dir. Bong Joon-ho
31 for 31 is a curated film program for the month of October. Conceived of as a compilation mixtape, the program explores the historical and cultural legacy of Horror cinema. Consider this my billet-doux to the genre.
America has King Kong, Japan has Godzilla, so it's only fitting that South Korea gets its own signature monster as well. And who better to introduce “Gwoemul” than the eccentric Bong Joon-ho? Bong, the South Korean master (and recent Academy Award-winner), first came to my attention with this daring creature feature back in 2006. At 16-years-old, I had just begun to expand my cinematic horizons, so when ads featuring a giant fish terrorizing Seoul started popping up; I was smitten. The Host was my first Bong hit, and I’ve been high on his supply ever since.
Like Godzilla, whose origins are tied to the atomic bomb and the consequences of their proliferation, Gwoemul should be read as a warning against polluting the environment. The monster is the by-product of reckless waste disposal in the Han River; a thinly veiled indictment against US policy (and inspired by an actual event). Gwoemul is an ugly bugger. A cross between a mutant catfish and a ball of snot, this river monster would make even Jeremy Wade shit himself. While the slimy beast serves as the catalyst for the plot, it is not the focus. At its core, The Host is about family.
If you connected with the family in Parasite, you’ll find the Park clan just as loveable. Gang-du is a cuddly goof, who runs a snack bar with his young daughter, Hyun-seo, and his father, Hee-bong. Their humble existence is shattered, however, when a monster emerges from the nearby Han River. In the chaos of its rampage, Hyun-seo is captured by the creature as it escapes back into the water.
The family is left shocked and grief-stricken. Gang-du’s estranged brother and sister, Nam-il and Nam-jo, return to join the family in their collective sorrow. Driven by vengeance and the hope that Hyun-seo may still be alive, the family sets out to find and slay the beast. Meanwhile, Hyun-seo wakes up in the creature’s den shaken but still breathing. She’s small enough to hide from its wrath for now, but time is running out.
The Host left a big impression on me in 2006, and screening it again in 2020 only serves to solidify Bong’s genius. That Bong can conjure up scenes as thrilling, funny, and tragic all in one film demonstrates his cinematic wizardry. A monster movie for the thinking man, Bong elevated what’s typically ignominious into genuine art.