Friday, November 16, 2007

The Host

2006, South Korea, directed by Bong Joon-ho

Bong Joon-ho's The Host gives the monster movie an engaging new spin, deftly blending political commentary with thrills, and using his sympathetic characters in genre-defying ways. Like Bong's earlier Memories of Murder, the tone of the film spins on a dime, one moment malevolent, the next slapstick, but the mix is handled much more successfully here; perhaps it's easier to have fun with big monsters than with the depredations of a serial killer.

As in his previous film, there's an extended commentary on the US influence on South Korea: it's not a subtle point, with a particularly blunt take on the American attitude to Korean safety in the film's prologue. There's a more understated set of observations on recent Korean history, particularly in the shape of the protagonist's brother, whose youth was spent protesting against military government in the 1980s. The fina scenes see him reclaim that youth in a liberating fashion, as he and the other members of his family take on the monster that has ravaged Seoul, bypassing the authorities, who are still seen as less than reliable.

Bong is a tremendously assured director, orchestrating both his actors and his CGI effects with often dazzling skill; the initial attack by the monster is a particular highlight, with carefully planned tracking shots through the panicked crowds. He's also an adept visual humourist, with one especially amusing sequence that plays on fears of a SARS-like virus, while he draws performances of wit and surprising humanity from his cast.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States