One of the biggest blockbusters in the history of Korean cinema, The Host may not be the most original film ever made but that doesn't mean that it isn't a whole lot of goofy, gory fun.
A nefarious laboratory run by the American military dumps a load of toxic chemicals into the Han River in South Korea, resulting in the emergence of a massive monster that starts chowing down on the locals and generally just wreaking havoc. Oddly enough, the beast steals away a young girl named Hyun-seo who he doesn't harm but who he squirrels away in the sewer. The army is called in to deal with the problem, and soon word gets out that not only is the monster a flat out nasty creature but he's also carrying a lethal virus. As such, the military is forced to quarantine any citizens who have had any contact with the monster - one of whom is the abducted girl's father, Park Gang-du.
Shortly after he's been locked up, Gang-du, with some help from a few other family members, manages to break out of the quarantine and he heads deep into the sewers to try and find his daughter. What he doesn't know is that not only is she still down there, alive, but she's found and started to care for a young boy whose own father was killed by the monster. When the military finds out that the father has escaped, the make it their priority to bring him back in... an odd choice considering that the monster is still at large, leading one to wonder if maybe there's something going on that the general population has not been made aware of...
The Host isn't reinventing the wheel - in fact, it sticks to standard monster movie conventions fairly rigidly. That said, the film does a good job establishing the characters and making us care about them enough that what happens to them at least resonates with the viewer a bit. Throw in a bit of political satire and social commentary, some surprisingly effective moments of both humor and human drama and some absolutely fantastic monster scenes and you wind up with a bit of a mish-mash, but certainly a very enjoyable one.
The opening scene sets the film up nicely. After we meet the characters briefly we're immediately beaten over the head with the monster's grand entrance. Though it initially appears to be played for laughs, we soon learn that this creature is to be feared as he sends the people lounging around the park into a massive panic. It's a scene that sticks with you for a while as it blindsides you to a certain extent, tricking you into thinking that you're going to be watching a rather satirical take on the monster movie before getting down to business and delivering a very intense creature attack. Thankfully the film is able to keep up this method of deliberately toying with audience expectations throughout, meaning that the opening salvo isn't the only memorable or remarkable moment that you'll take away with you once the end credits roll.
Performances are strong across the board (as long as you watch the film in its native Korean... the dubbed version definitely hurts things) with Ah-sung Ko, who plays Hyun-seo, stealing the show. Her emotive expressions and serious delivery really hammer home what her character is going through and for a younger actress she certainly shows a lot of genuine talent in this performance. The effects, most of which are handled by way of some effective CGI, are surprisingly realistic and don't feel nearly as cold and flat out digital as so much computer work tends to. When it moves, it looks like an amphibian, and when it attacks, it is frightening. Adding to that is that the effects team has made sure that the environment in which this creature exists reacts to his movements and his actions.
While there are a few moments that are a tad melodramatic and a couple of plot holes that could have been avoided, The Host is a slightly schizophrenic but completely enjoyable film. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll jump out of your seat - but most importantly, you'll stay entertained.
The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen image is very nice. Color reproduction looks great and the black levels stay strong from start to finish. Flesh tones look lifelike and natural and there's no serious print damage to complain about. A bit of fine grain is present in some scenes but it's never distracting. Mpeg compression artifacts are never an issue and the slight bit of shimmering that shows up in a couple of spots is easy to overlook as it never overpowers the image. As far as detail goes, a few of the darker scenes are just a bit on the soft side but aside from that, there's plenty of clarity in the image. The Host looks great on this disc.
Audio options are provided in English and Korean in both Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and 2.0 Stereo tracks with optional subtitles available in English and Spanish. The Korean 5.1 track is the ideal way to enjoy the film as it makes the monster attack scenes a lot more intense and a lot more fun. Surrounds are used quite well during a few of the more action-intensive moments in the movie and your subwoofer will definitely shake things nicely in a few key scenes. As far as the English dubbed tracks go, they're fine if you've got a serious aversion to subtitles but the voice actors just don't quite fit the characters as well as they could have and it feels forced. Watching the film in Korean allows it to play out a little more seriously and it adds some authenticity to the locations.
The primary extra feature on the first disc is a commentary track from director Bong Joon-Ho and a long time friend of his. Surprisingly enough, the track is recorded in English. This is a fairly detailed discussion wherein we learn the intricacies of mixing effects work with live actors and how much work went into getting a few of the more memorable set pieces just right. He tells us what it was like on set, why certain performers were cast in certain parts, the role that CGI played in the film, and more.
Also found on the first disc is a short featurette entitled Director Bong Joon-Ho's Reflections (5:24). This segment more or less gives the man a chance to apologize to a few different actors whose material was trimmed and not used and to talk about some of the ideas that he explored in the movie.
Also on the first disc are a selection of Deleted Scenes - 23:20 worth in total. Most of these are character bits but towards the end there are some interesting excised clips of the monster in action and the aftermath he leaves behind as well as some nifty bits with the scientists. Some Deleted News Clips are also found, 4:38 worth, and these are rather amusing even when seen out of context as they are here.
The second disc is where the bulk of the supplements are found, starting off with some interesting featurettes that take a more detailed look at some very specific aspects of the film, in turn broken down by that aspect. First up is the section called Making Of The Host and in here we find bits on Making The Host, Storyboards, Bong Joon-Ho's Direction, Memories of the Sewer, The Film Departments: Set Design, Physical Special Effects, Sound Effects, and Composing The Music. Combined, these segments give us a very in depth look at how the film came together and what roles various participants played in its creation.
In The Creature we find segments on Conceptual Artwork: The Birth, Designing The Creature, Bringing The Creature To Life, Building The Creature: The WETA Workshop, Puppet Animatronix, Animating The Creature and finally, Why Did It Do That?. Those who dig on effects footage and like to see how computers can blend live action, CGI and puppets should enjoy this as it's all quite interesting.
A section called The Crew contains featurettes on The Staff, The Production Team and Visual Effects Supervisor: Film Production In Korea. Obviously, all of this material relates to the people who worked behind the scenes to make this all happen. Some of this material is a little bit try but effects bits are quite interesting and it's nice to see some of the unsung behind the scenes heroes get some attention.
In The Cast we learn about Casting Tapes, Training The Actors, The Extras: Behind The Scenes, Monster Appeal, The Family: Main Cast Interviews, Additional Cast Interviews and finally The Extras: Casting Tapes. As you could probably guess, this material all relates to the people who show up in front of the camera. The extras are just as interesting a the main actors and there are a few fun stories told here.
Also included on the second disc are a Gag Reel, a segment called Saying Goodbye which is five minutes of the cast and crew reminiscing about working on the film together, and a few Korean trailers for the film.
The Host borrows bits and pieces from other, better movies but the end result is a movie that takes it self seriously enough to work but not so seriously that the end result isn't a whole lot of fun. Monster move fans should get a real kick out of this one and despite a few problems in the story, this is a very entertaining film. Magnolia's two-disc special edition release looks and sounds great and contains a massive array of supplements, earning this a rating of highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.