The Host is Bong Joon-ho’s river-monster daydream come to life

The Host is Bong Joon-ho’s river-monster daydream come to life

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: As part of our two weeks of Halloween-related content, we offer five days of monster movies. 

The Host (2006)

As a kid living near the Han River in Seoul, South Korea, Bong Joon-ho daydreamed about what would happen if a creature like the Loch Ness Monster emerged from the river and started wreaking havoc on everyday life. Chances are it’d look a lot like The Host, his 2006 film about a large, fish-like river monster terrorizing Seoul and one family in particular.

The Korean title for The Host, 괴물, literally means “Monster,” which makes a little more sense for a film about a creature, not some parasite. But the English title works: The monster is thought to be carrying a deadly virus, and Bong explained that the word applies to everything that makes its central family suffer, from “the government, the system, the U.S. government, and the creature.” “The host” also speaks to the political commentary of the film, wherein the negligence of the U.S. military—guests of its Korean hosts—is directly responsible for the monster. 

That’s a lot of potential themes, and The Host has a similarly varied tone: Elements of sci-fi, dark comedy, drama, and action cinema mix with political satire and environmental concerns. Much of the film plays like a fairly typical action flick—creature emerges, wreaks havoc, is pursued by the family of one of its victims—but The Host’s lighter moments make its surprising climax more powerful and its final scene sweeter. 

Song Kang-ho anchors the film as an apathetic slacker spinning his wheels while  working at his father’s riverside snack shop. The only thing he seems to care about is his 13-year-old daughter, and even then he can’t be bothered to show up to her school for an event (which he leaves to his boozer kid brother). He has a younger sister who’s an expert archer with a history of choking when the pressure’s on. Seemingly enabling his kids’ bad habits is their father, who helps care for Song’s daughter because the mother is out of the picture. The Host presents a family in dysfunction, and though the crisis that arises when Song’s daughter is kidnapped gives them a unity of purpose, Bong doesn’t present it as the blessing in disguise that forces them to get their shit together. 

In fact, once the dust (or Agent Yellow, the monster-killing poison deployed by the U.S. military) settles, there’s not a ton of resolution. And there’s obvious anxiety that something else could rear up out of the water at any time. It just may—a sequel, not directed by Bong, has been in the works for years. 

Availability: The Host is available on Blu-ray and DVD (obtainable through Netflix) and for rental or purchase through the major digital services.

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