October 06, 2006


New THE HOST poster"Is it good? Is it good? Everyone says it's great. Did you see it? How was it? Is it any good?"

That's pretty much what happens when you mention Bong Joon-Ho's THE HOST in polite company. So, to answer the question: yes, it's everything you've heard. It's really that good. Not the movie I expected, but much better than I would have ever thought possible.

The CGI has been fixed after Cannes and, except for a couple of shots at the end where they apparently ran out of money and had to resort to some older, weaker CGI shots, it's visually impeccable. I'm not sure what THE HOST means (not sure what THE DEPARTED means either - the two movies could swap titles with no discernible difference) but watching this flick I was grateful for the return of Song Kang-Ho, the return of Bong Joon-Ho, more Bae Doo-Na, and some intensely strong work from a fistful of Korean character actors.

Man, this family hates each other. Song Kang-Ho is a semi-retarded adult who sleeps all day and steals bites of the customer's food at the Han River snack shack his dad owns (Byun Hee-Bong with a mouthful of rotten teeth). His sister is an emotionally locked-down Olympic archer (Bae Doo-Na) and his brother is a student radical turned failed salaryman who's desperate to hold onto a job, any job (Park Hae-Il) and he'll punch people until they give him one.

The focus of the family is Hyun-Seo, Song Kang-Ho's bratty daughter who nevertheless is the apple of everyone's eye. Until a monsterous anus with teeth on legs lurches out of the river and eats her. Convinced that she's still alive, the four are forced into uncomfortable proximity with one another as they hunt down this BFM (Big F++king Monster) with all the tools at their disposal: a couple of shotguns, a box of change, some street signs and a few molotov cocktails.

With a minimum of care and attention, Bong Joon-Ho has made probably the most realistic monster movie to ever hit the screen. It makes you wonder how rotten so many other directors are that they've never had these ideas before because they are all so real there's a forehead-slapping "of course" quality to them. There're international implications to the monster, military responses, government contractors swarming around like flies, but all of this is somewhere else, with dribs and drabs of it bleeding into our perception because Bong's movie is firmly locked into what happens to this family as they get eaten up by the government buereacracy.

The set-pieces are startling. I haven't jumped during a movie since god-knows-when and I jumped twice in this one. And the initial monster attack is so different from what you were expecting that you actually experience actual emotions during a special effects set piece.

The only drawback to the movie is that I was expecting a "Yeah! Rock On!" kind of ending. I wanted one. If any characters deserved the much-derided Hollywood ending, it was these guys. And I didn't get one. Bong Joon-Ho isn't interested in making blockbusters or having the audience walk away pumping their fists in the air. Which is too bad because the people he makes movies about are the kind of people you actually want to cheer on. He just makes it hard for you to do that, and that's what makes him so good.


October 6, 2006 at 11:21 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink


Huzzah! Mirrors my feelings very closely.

Posted by: Peter Martin | Oct 6, 2006 11:57:53 AM

The titles in reference to the monster supposedly carrying some vicious new virus.

Posted by: Todd | Oct 7, 2006 6:29:14 PM

I'm so glad. I've been an avid reader of this blog for a good year now, quite enjoy what you do. As if I needed any other reason to be excited about "The Host," your review would be one. I'm fortunate and blessed to be able to see a screening at the St.Louis International Film Festival in November. So close...yet so, so far away. Thanks for this and the solid "The Departed" review that echoed everything I felt after seeing it.

Posted by: Mike | Oct 8, 2006 1:06:28 AM

Just saw "Host" last night and loved it too. Real good times.

Posted by: Simon Abrams | Oct 8, 2006 11:47:55 AM

And to think I was hesitant to call Bong a genius after seeing only Memories of Murder. Now I'm ready. I still need to track down Barking Dogs Never Bite, though.

Posted by: Josh Ralske | Oct 8, 2006 9:59:42 PM

I was at last night's midnight screening, too. And I'm sorry to not be a naysayer, but holy balls, I loved this movie. I haven't had more fun in a movie theater in years. What hideous demon universe do we live in, that X-MEN 3 gets into every multiplex in the country, while most Americans won't ever even hear of THE HOST? If it were in English, people would line up around the block for this movie.

Posted by: Michael Wells | Oct 8, 2006 10:18:10 PM

Oh, and Josh Ralske, I think BARKING DOGS is available on a region-free HK DVD with subs. Am I right, anyone? It once was, anyway. Even better than HOST, in my book (though not by much) and still my favorite Korean movie.

Posted by: Michael Wells | Oct 8, 2006 10:20:03 PM

I think they chose "The Host" for the English title since it refers to the fact that the monster supposedly is a host for a virus that spreads fear. If they had wanted to be more literal, they could have easily named it "Monster." By the movie's end, it seemed that the monster was really just a host for the misinformation and bureaucratic failures that this family faced.And that the ones who really suffered in the end due to this were children.It is a great action/horror flick on the surface and an ironic,smart political film at it's core.

Posted by: SH | Oct 9, 2006 2:22:53 PM

I also love BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE with a passion bordering on insanity. There's a HK Region 3 (I think) DVD with English subs, and an HK VCD with English subs.

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | Oct 9, 2006 3:52:56 PM

I can't find a R1 DVD of BARKING DOGS, so I bit the bullet and ordered the R3, which I will find a way to watch. Courtesy of the link to YesAsia at that kooky Canadian website, Twitch. I hope it's as good as you all say.

Posted by: Josh Ralske | Oct 9, 2006 5:47:11 PM

By the way, Grady, in addition to being insightful and having pretty good taste (a bonus), you are the funniest movie critic this side of Vern.

You may even be funnier than Vern.

I am going to say that Vern is the funniest West Coast critic and you get the East Coast.

Posted by: Josh Ralske | Oct 9, 2006 5:52:08 PM

Saw this yesterday and really loved it... totally agree with almost everything you said. But you know, I've always said that that there was something in the water in Korea (especially after seeing Save the Green Planet) and this movie proves me right!! :)

Posted by: EDouglas | Oct 10, 2006 4:20:46 AM

BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE can be found online I think, through torrent sites or something, but most likely its gone by now. Thank god i've downloaded it on time. I've ended up making like 4 copies just in case i lose some. As for The Host, i have to agree with everythign thats been said above. The first few shots of the monster were some of the most realistic shots I've seen in movies so far. I'm not talking about the graphics, but how it was used in the movie.

Posted by: exst | Oct 10, 2006 9:00:51 PM

I want to see this movie. Unfortunately, it hasn't been released in Los Angeles; hasn't been released on region-coded DVD, at least not at Cinefile, where I rent my movies; and I don't have the time or the money to attend film festivals because I have a child and I work as a teacher at one of the fine public schools in the San Fernando Valley. Reading your review had made me want to see this movie. Reading your review has also made me think that the Internet is not the great connector we all keep saying it is and more of a means for disparate peoples to find each other and form text-based cliques that exclude everyone else. The comments posted here seem to be more about who has seen the movie. It's like a roll call at a town meeting. A very small town meeting. We're going backwards.

Posted by: John Milk | Oct 15, 2006 1:17:45 PM

hi mr. john milk: don't sweat it. it's been picked up for theatrical release and at least with HK release should find its way onto R3 DVD shortly. worse things have happened, like the 80s years (or some such) it took to restore abel gance's NAPOLEON! think about the poor souls who expired before catching THAT beauty:P

as for human behavior and the net: going backwards may be a bit much (admittedly we all like a little melodrama now and then:-)) people will always be people, and technology only heightens whatever that's already there, it's not a magical pill transforming everything overnight (like the great big hope socialism/"the new world" used to be, ahahaaa...)

of course, there's nothing wrong feeling any color of the rainbow in reaction to this thing called hype. wild boars don't have such problem, lucky them.

Posted by: ed | Oct 16, 2006 2:37:35 AM

A review at UK MIRROR has been singled out by Chosun for its derogatory tone toward Korea. it's also picked up by Chinese news among fans of Korean wave:


Posted by: ed | Nov 21, 2006 5:31:46 PM

Awwww....another person becomes a Korean national enemy.

Posted by: Justin Slotman | Nov 21, 2006 8:08:36 PM

well you're certainly the person handing him that crown.

Posted by: ed | Nov 22, 2006 9:52:56 AM

Huh? You know what happened the last time somebody made a comment like that, right? (I mean Jay Leno--and obviously he's a much much bigger personality so that was a much bigger deal.)

Posted by: Justin Slotman | Nov 22, 2006 10:02:04 AM

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