The Host

Released:  2006

Cast:  Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona, Go Ah-sung

SUMMARY:  In 2000, an American scientist working in South Korea has his assistant dump 200 bottles of formaldehyde down the drain, even knowing that it will end up in the Han River.  A few years later, two fisherman see a strangely deformed fish swimming in the river, and a man about to jump off a bridge sees something large swimming under the surface.  In 2006, single father Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) is running a small food stand near the river with his father, Hee-bong (Byun Hee-bong) and caring for his daughter Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung).  Gang-du is something of a laughingstock in his own family, having neither the education of his brother Nam-il (Park Hae-il) nor the fame and drive of his sister, famed archer Nam-joo (Bae Doona).  One day while he is working at the stand, people notice a strange creature in the water.  While the creature initially seems peaceful, it abruptly bursts out of the water and begins attacking the crowd.  Everybody begins to flee in panic, and Gang-du grabs his daughter’s (newly arrived from school) hand and flees with them.  Unfortunately, he has grabbed the wrong hand, and when he turns around to find Hyun-seo he finds that the creature has grabbed her with its tail and dived back into the river.  Hyun-seo is presumed dead; she is included in a mass funeral held for victims of the attack.  Nam-il and Nam-joo arrive and a dispute quickly breaks out among the squabbling siblings.  The entire family then learns that since they have been in contract with the creature (either first- or second-hand), they are to be quarantined  They are also told that the creature potentially gave them some sort of deadly virus.  That evening, though, Gang-du get a phone call from Hyun-seo, who miraculously is still alive.  She is able to tell her father that she is trapped in some sort of huge sewer with the creature before being cut off.  Gang-du is desperate to go after her, but the authorities believe that he is delirious.  The only ones who believe him are his family.  His father spends everything to arrange an escape and outfit the four with guns, flashlights, a van and a map of the sewers, and the four set out to find Hyun-seo.  After searching numerous sewers, the family stops for the night in a concession stand, where Gang-du and Hee-bong discover that the creature is watching them.  They attempt to shoot it, but it has little effect besides provoking the creature.  They chase it down to the riverside, only to discover that they are out of bullets.  Hee-bong is killed by the creature as he tries to get his children out of danger.  Nam-il and Nam-joo flee, but Gang-du is unable to leave his father’s body, and thus is captured by the approaching military.

Meanwhile, two homeless orphan boys have also been in the sewers, and are later attacked by the creature.  Like the other victims, the creature takes them back to the sewer where Hyun-seo is, but the younger, Se-joo, is still alive.  Hyun-seo rescues him and keeps him with her in her secret hiding place.  Back in the city Nam-il finds a friend who works for a telecom company, and is able to trace calls.  Unfortunately, this is a trap:  the authorities are waiting for Nam-il.  He manages to find out the approximate location of the call, then blows the electricity and escapes.  He is severely injured while fleeing, but texts the call location to his brother and sister.  When Nam-joo gets it, she heads to the location, a particular bridge, and enters the sewer.  She is attacked by the creature, but is knocked into a crevice, and falls unconscious.  Gang-du is in a hospital after being captured, and learns that the virus is a hoax, made up to draw attention away from the real cause(presumably the chemicals).  The scientists then perform some sort of head surgery on Gang-du (possibly a lobotomy).  When he wakes up, he takes a nurse hostage and escapes, then heads for the sewers.  Down in them, Hyun-seo has fashioned a rope out of clothing and attached it to the top of the hole she is in.  When the rope is too short, she attempts to run up the back of the sleeping creature — only to realize that it is not asleep.  She and Se-joo head for their hiding spot, but are swallowed by the creature.  Nam-il wakes up to find that he has been cared for by a homeless man, who decides to join in the fight.  They make Molotov cocktails together and head for the sewer, where they reunite with Nam-joo and Gang-du.  Gang-du finds the hole where Hyun-seo had been kept, but she is no longer there; when the creature passes, he sees her arm hanging out of its mouth.  The creature returns aboveground and begins attacking people, followed by the three siblings and the homeless man.  Several of their attacks on it fail, but finally the homeless man douses it with gasoline, and Nam-joo shoots a flaming arrow into its eye; Gang-du then stabs it with a metal pole and kills it, then pulls both children from its mouth.  Hyun-seo is dead, but Se-joo is still alive.  Gang-du ultimately adopts the little boy, and continues to operate a food stand by the river, where he can make sure that nothing else emerges from it.

MY TAKE:  On the surface, this is a horror movie:  a monstrous mutant busts out of the river and starts eating people.  One of the victims, a little girl, survives, and her father’s family assembles to rescue her.  What I wasn’t expecting is that this movie, at least the first half, is really funny.  The family is less than inspiring:  Hee-bong is old, Gang-du is lazy, inept and nearly narcoleptic; Nam-il is an out-of-work alcoholic, and Nam-joo is a slight, quiet woman who apparently doesn’t have a running speed.  The result, while uninspiring, is hilarious.  At the mass funeral, the three grown siblings get into a wrestling match, and have to be separated by their father.  They constantly bicker and insult each other, even as they’re out hunting the creature.  I was astounded to find myself laughing repeatedly, even though I thought Hyun-seo was probably doomed.  The second half of the movie is less humorous, because the fight gets more serious and desperate, but there are still funny moments:  when they’re trying to light the creature on fire, Nam-il has this dramatic, slow-motion run-up with a lit Molotov cocktail . . . only to drop it behind him.  I laughed at the same time I was cursing him.  It’s sad that both Hee-bong and Hyun-seo died, but it’s cool that the siblings worked together, and that Gang-du adopted the little boy.

RATING:  Cool twist on a monster movie.

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