In a strong showing for a foreign film, the Korean movie "The Host"
opened in the United States on 74 screens and grossed $320,000 in its first weekend. It has also received very strong reviews from the nation's leading film authorities, including The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, and Variety.
The film follows a family of three thirty-something siblings and their aging father in search for one of the clan's 13 year-old daughter who is taken by a mutated amphibian beast who lives in the sewers of the Han River in Seoul. This horror-comedy teeters on the brink of parody but remains sufficiently serious to keep the viewer grounded enough to appreciate the gravity of the situation. Manohla Dargis from the Times calls it "a snapshot of a modern South Korea bordering on social anarchy, one in which a fatalistically obedient old-timer and his three preternaturally immature adult children face down a rampaging beast along with clueless doctors, Keystone Kops, faithless friends and even hordes of paparazzi".
Director Bong Joon-ho
does attempt to inject some social commentary into the film, including an environmental message, but it appears weak when contrasted with the stunning visual effects and, above all, the superb acting. All five actors portraying the family do a fantastic job and display a chemistry that is rarely seen in films, let alone in horror films. Director Bong has used many of them before. The always impressive Song Kang-ho
, who plays the father Gang-du of the middle-school girl, was also Bong's star in 2003's critically acclaimed "Memories of Murder
", as were a number of other characters in the film, including the convincing grandfather Byun Hee-bong
and the fiery uncle Park Hae-il
. The hesitant yet at the same time persistent Bae Doona
plays the aunt and the young Go Ah-sung
portrays the daughter and brings to the character a surprising mix of vulnerability and maturity.
The "Host" itself is a monster created by the San Francisco-based firm The Orphanage. It is, as Jim Emerson from RogerEbert.com calls it, "the most hideously beautiful movie-monster since H.R. Giger's Alien, equally ferocious and hard to kill, but with a poignant side".
The ending of the film is what perhaps most distinguishes it from Hollywood, and, without giving too much away, the brutal and raw display of vengeance and anger, juxtaposed with some of the movie's earlier comedy and absurdity, gives it an all-around quality that is hard to put your finger on. Michael Phillips form the Tribune perhaps says it best, "The tone of "The Host"
is slippers in the best way; you're never sure if you're in for a joke or a shock, yet nothing feels random".
Those sentiments were echoed by movie-goers at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C. One viewer called it "the best movies I have seen in a long time… I have seen many Asian movies and this is one of the best". Another attendee enjoyed the urban setting, which is indeed unusual for modern horror films and provides a powerful backdrop. And yet another filmgoer commented on the difference between "The Host"
and Hollywood movies. "An American movie would not question authority as much and kill main characters".
is playing in selected theaters and will be shown at the Landmark E Street Cinema through Thursday, March 22.
By Michael Sullivan