- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

A thoroughly modern production with equal doses of cutting-edge special effects (courtesy of Weta Workshop and the Orphanage), contemporary concerns and even humor, Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host” nonetheless takes cues from and also pays tribute to its creature-feature predecessors.

Like the “Gamera” series or the recent “Snakes on a Plane,” this Korean film is over-the-top and, at times, utterly ridiculous and campy. Yet it still gives audiences quite a scare (even if it’s only because they’re startled).

What makes the film unique, however, is that there’s no Samuel L. Jackson or Ice Cube ready to whup some beast’s behind — only a bumbling, narcoleptic shop-owner named Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) and his similarly ill-equipped family members (think of the “Jurassic Park” characters that meet an untimely demise).

Even if audiences don’t love the film, it’s hard not to become a bit invested in its down-to-earth human protagonists and their foibles.

“The Host” begins when an obsessive-compulsive U.S. military officer stationed in Seoul commands his lab partner to dump toxic chemicals down the drain, where they will flow into the city’s Han River. It’s a setup that harks back to Godzilla’s birth in the wake of nuclear fallout, and also one that reveals the film’s attitude toward the American government.

Gang-du, stationed at his food stand by the river, is among the first to witness the horrifying green creature — half T. Rex, half “Alien” — that emerges two years later to wreak havoc on bystanders. Before it retires to a sewer, the acrobatic beast captures the shopkeeper’s daughter, Hyun-Seo (Ko A-sung).

Soon, the U.S. military issues a statement that the creature is not only homicidal, but the host of a deadly virus. Everyone who has come into contact with it must be quarantined, including Gang-du and his family.

Yet after the Parks get a cell phone call from Hyun-Seo, they must break out and find her. In addition to fighting the beast, they’ll end up fighting the society that seeks to recapture them.

By its finale, the movie has borrowed elements from lighthearted comedies, science-fiction thrillers, humanistic dramas, action-packed stick-‘em-ups and subtle cultural exposes. It’s a holistic “Host,” and a fun one, too — especially if you’re into bloodthirsty amphibians and don’t mind reading subtitles.

***

TITLE: “The Host” (in Korean with English subtitles)

RATING: R (beasts, violence and language)

CREDITS: Directed by Bong Joon-ho. Screenplay by Bong Joon-ho, Hah Joon-won and Baek Chul-hyun.

RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes

WEB SITE: www.hostmovie.com MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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