It sucks to split your reaction to 95% of a film, and have the other 5% make more of an impact. But that’s what happened.
95% – Four and a half stars. Fantastic monster movie.
See what I mean?
A monster movie has certain conventions. You can give Jaws and Alien too much credit for establishing these â€¦ but it’s hard. Whatever work came before, Spielberg and Scott set a template that most acknowledge. Key elements:
1) Creature Reveal â€“ Act One is a mystery. Act Two is discovery. Act Three is conflict. By the end of the film, it’s well known what the monster is, what it can do and where it is weak. The conclusion should be an escalating fight to the death. Both against the monster itself and
2) Bad Authorityâ€“ Police/government/ the military are no good. In fact, they’re a problem. One step behind, corrupt, or in conflict with the protags. Social criticism is welcome, as you boo your leaders in favor of
3) People You Know â€“ This isn’t a goddamn slasher. You’re invested in the battle because the heroes are everymen, tied by bonds of family, camaraderie, and their hope for a better future. The plots between them should be at least as interesting as the monster fight. Because
4) Conventional Wisdom is Wrong â€“ This is really the point of the movie. Though Authority means well, and has a goal, there are individual human hopes that have to lead in extraordinary situations.
This is where the glitch appears in The Host. Mostly, it’s on-note. The Authority is somewhere between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Aliens. You have a lying government mis-handling the crisis, and a more sinister outside group, with a different interest in the monster. The first here is the Korean police, and the second is the U.S. military.
This is great for a Korean film. The tangled history of modern Koreans, their own leaders, and the USA is plumbed in depth, mostly to good effect. But.
The Americans are Cockroaches.
They are sickly half-men, out to corrupt our precious (Korean) bodily fluids. They eat blood matzos. They poison wells. You ever see a Yankee drink a glass of water?
I’m not exaggerating. I’m condensing actual plot points. The monster was created because an American scientist dumped toxins in a Korean river. For no reason. Just to dump chemicals in a Korean river. A second (bald, cross-eyed, and yes, big-nosed) American ties up our hero, and performs brain surgery on him without anesthesia. For fun. Then the Army drops a chemical bomb (Seriously? “Agent Yellow”?) on downtown Seoul. FOR NO REASON.
As racist jingoism, this is annoying. But it’s worse from a story perspective. The monster lacks a thoughtful or interesting origin, and none of the America plots resolve. Because they’re not plots. They’re acts of meaningless evil.
The heroes themselves are well-developed and strong. The cat-and-mouse game they play with the river monster is even better than the battle in Jaws or Alien. There’s an obvious lead in the beginning of the film that you think will pay off, then think will pay off then … awwww … THEN IT DOES PAY OFF. Woo! The ending is goddamn touching.
So why do we need the fifteen minutes’ hate? The story is already political, tense, and full of references to other great films. It satisfies. The “evil round-eye” parts are not only nasty, but three times derail the plot – the ending is almost ruined by the confusing introduction of the bio-weapon, which has no use, place, or effect on the story.
Though it’s so prominent, you have to wonder. White arrogance created the monster, white … desire for Asian brains(?) … almost stopped the heroes … and american intervention clings onto every bad policy. Kind of like a …
The protagonist is redeemed when he stops dying his hair blonde. He purges Westerness like you would a …
And then the river is at peace. Clean. Once the wormy monster is dead, and the Americans are removed.
I wondered briefly: There’s only one monster. Why’s it translated “The Host”?
The more you think about it, the more it emerges as the whole point of the film.
So here’s the central tragedy. I just watched one of the best pure monster flicks I’ve ever seen. And an hour later, I’m primarily thinking things like “while you’re purging, can we have our 40,000 grandpas back” and “say hi to Dear Leader for me assholes.” And I really didn’t go into this thinking of Korea as the new France.