- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 10, 2007

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘The Host’

Rating: R for creature violence and language.

Common Sense Media: Pause. For ages 15 and older.

**** (out of five stars)

Running time: 119 minutes

Common Sense review: The top-grossing movie in South Korean history, “The Host” (“Gwoemul”) is a wild, rewarding ride that’s equal parts creature feature, cautionary tale, family melodrama and political critique.

It starts, as many monster movies do, with human error: A sinister U.S. military pathologist (Scott Wilson) instructs a minion to dump formaldehyde into South Korean waters. This act produces a ghastly mutation — part fish, part reptile — that emerges from a river in broad daylight and, in a riotous scene, attacks a crowd, killing some and kidnapping others.

Among the abductees is 11-year-old Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko). At first, her family — including her bighearted man child of a father, Gang-Du (Kang-ho Song), and grandfather Hie-bong (Hie-bong Byeon) — grieves along with other similarly afflicted Seoul citizens (the mourning wall, with pictures and tokens, resembles memorials like those for September 11 victims).

Carted off and quarantined for possible monster contamination, Gang-Du is despondent until he gets a cell phone call from his daughter, who describes the place where the monster has dumped her as a “really big sewer.” With that, Gang-Du — with help from his father, unemployed brother Nam-il (Hae-il Park), and champion archer sister Nam-Joo (Du-na Bae) — sets off to find her, no matter what lies the government tells them.

Common sense note: Parents need to know that creature-feature-loving teens will want to see this movie, subtitles or no. If they go, they’ll see plenty of scenes of the half-fish, half-reptile monster chasing, attacking, eating and ripping up its human victims (its lair is filled with corpses and bones). In fact, the computer graphics imagery-heavy violence is so excessive that it ends up being somewhat comedic.

Humans use a variety of weapons against the monster (and each other), including guns, arrows (some flaming) and gas. The government lies about a virus and then assaults demonstrators with a toxic gas called “Agent Yellow.” Some mourning scenes show characters crying over lost loved ones. The subtitles feature plenty of profanity.

Families can discuss monster movies. What’s the appeal of creature features like this one? How does the movie update and also pay homage to classic monster movies that warn against human carelessness and arrogance, like “Godzilla”? Are the characters in this movie being warned against anything? What could the creature be a symbol of? Families can also talk about the Hyun-seo family’s bravery. What brings them together with unity and purpose? How does Hyun-seo become a hero in the film, rather than only a victim?

Sexual content: Brief reference to an ex-wife who “popped out the baby and ran off”; brief shot of girls’ legs under a table.

Language alert: In subtitles: Offensive profanity used.

Violence alert: Multiple attacks by monster. It chases, terrifies, eats/chomps, throws/drops and dismembers human victims; dog attacks owner; suspected infection victims are dragged off in plastic bags (resembling body bags); humans fight monster and each other with guns; brief scene shows brain surgery (some cutting and drilling); homeless man pours gasoline on monster so flaming arrow can set it on fire; memorial services and mourning; sad scene showing a child’s death.

Social-behavior alert: Korean and U.S. officials (police, media, medical, military) commit illegal acts and/or engage in coverup; the central family counters the officials’ deceit and oppression with displays of courage, loyalty and intelligence. Note: Homeless man is drunk.

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