This off-beat creature feature was my introduction to the Korean New Wave, and while not as dizzyingly amazing as other such entries later encountered on this list, The Host is beautiful, emotional, and shocking in its own right — three common ingredients in these types of movies.
It’s a modern kaiju film, though our tadpole from hell here is more Space Amoeba-sized than Godzilla, but the movie itself is structured in much the same way as the Big G’s original outing (and a few others). Although some of the social commentary manifests in suspiciously non-clever ways — unmotivated villainy, Agent Yellow as blatant metaphor — these things turn out to be deliberate and contribute to the cartoon tone of the story.
In this way, it’s comparable to Battle Royale, this heightened world a playground for violence, but with an overtly political message taking root. There is some Korean disenfranchisement going on, frustration over the American military and the Korean government — in this film, the monster is a lumbering analogy for the meddling of such parties in pristine, local haunts, and the conspiracy that results is further criticism, but ultimately, more antagonism to our intrepid heroes.
Unlike Battle Royale, The Host has a palpable emotional arc, despite its gonzo ending. The family is established first as misfits and losers, whose love for each other is under the surface, obscured — even to them. But they manage to come together under these odd circumstances, and are subsequently torn apart.
The father character’s last stand moment is masterfully directed, shot, and edited — Bong Joon Ho at his best. But it isn’t just for the technical merits, there’s a momentum of sympathy and drama carrying us through, making for a moment of singular tragedy unknown to the rest of sleepy Korea, but all too real for this family.
And of course, the galloping monster doesn’t hurt. An absolutely wonderful art design, with a stunning daylight debut in the first act that smacks of Children of Men in cinematography. While The Host II, or the American remake, might not use the creature to the best of their abilities, the sight itself is worth admission alone.
Throw in everything else Bong Joon Ho has to offer, and The Host is a classic.