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"The Host"

Directed by Bong Joon-ho.
Written by Bong Joon-ho, Ha Jun-won and Baek Chul-hyun.
Starring Song Kang-ho, Byeon Hie-bong, Bae Du-na and Ko Ah-sung.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  3/14/07


Let me put it to you this way--"The Host"--a Korean import that made waves overseas last year before showing up on our shores--is strangely overrated, a decent film that has decent laughs, decent scares and barely-decent special effects...especially for a film that created this much buzz online and in film purist circles that I follow periodically.

I was hoping for much more, especially with the kooky-yet-spooky trailer that I saw for this a couple of weeks ago.  In a lab somewhere in Seoul around 1999, a scientist tells his partner to go ahead and pour hundreds of old bottles of formaldehyde down the drain, a drain that leads to the Han River near the city.  Cut to 2006; what can only be described as a loser, Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) of the Park family, is sleeping at the counter of his family's shop on the riverbank of the Han River.  He wakes up in time to see a humongous larvae/predator/sewer slug starting to eat people and generally wrecking havoc on the coast; in the process, he almost loses his father (Byeon Hie-bong) and he absolutely loses his daughter (Ko Ah-sung).  After the chaos, Gang-du is quarantined along with his dad, his Olympic archer sister (Bae Du-na) and his alcoholic brother (Park Hae-il), but the family breaks out and formulates a plan to rescue Gang-du's daughter when they learn that she might still be alive somewhere in the sewers near the Han River.

So, the genre here is tough--sci-fi, horror, action, rescue film, slapstick comedy (this part is tough to explain without seeing it; I am assuming the comedy is intentional but mixed with people getting chewed up by a large fucking slug, I'm not so sure) and environmental hazard doomsday spectacle.  "The Host"--again, strangely--does all of these things reasonably well.  At no point do you find yourself laughing your ass off; you also never really are wowed by the special effects; the scares are minimal because you generally always see the slug thing coming; you know the family will somehow rescue the girl but you don't really know how, but even when you find out, you are underwhelmed.

If this was released by a North American studio, it would open to so-so reviews and make middling cash.  The cast is really below par after Song's performance; they do the "run around like your head's on fire" bit so well (taking a cue from any "Godzilla" film, any time, ever) that you hope to forget that there's a substantial amount of movie that DOESN'T feature the slug-thing.  The sets are blah, the music is blah, the fire effects are so bad you WILL think this is a TV movie at times (Korean big-budget films are not nearly as big-budget as they are here in the States).

Honestly, I can't get over how average "The Host" was.  Even on video, I am convinced that this would disappoint a person who had high hopes coming in, but if you come in on an even keel, you might think that this wasn't too bad.


Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09