With complete mastery of the horror, thriller, sci-fi drama that director Bong Joon-Ho is working in, The Host begins like one of those 1980's scientists make a mistake films, and then proceeds to become something else entirely as the body of this movie unfolds.
We open with scientists pouring formaldehyde down a sink that goes into the Han River in Korea. Next, we are taken into the world of Gang-du, a doting dad toward his daughter Hyun-seo, but still a schlep nevertheless. He works with his father at a food stand by the Han River and doesn't seem to be able to stay awake on the job. He even steals food from people's orders, and is in fact caught by his father and is forced to apologize to the people he stole from. After this, a bunch of people enjoying a nice day by the river see this thing swing around under a bridge and then dive into the water. Things get quiet, and then all of the sudden all hell breaks loose.
The beast emerges from the river and begins to wreak holy havoc on the town. People are bludgeoned, eaten, and generally dismembered as Gang-du does his best to fight this beast. Amidst a crowd of screaming people who are being chased by this creature, Gang-du grabs his daughters hand, only to find out that he has grabbed the wrong girl. Once he realizes this it is too late and the beast makes off with his daughter. Everyone assumes Hyun-seo to be dead, and suddenly the Korean government (in conjunction with the American government) begins quarantining people. Apparently, this beast that has been going after people is actually the Host of a deadly virus. Just when Gang-du thinks that all is lost, he receives a cellphone call from his daughter claiming that she is alive in a sewer. Eventually breaking free from the quarantined area. Gang-du, his father, and his brother and sister go on the hunt to find Hyun-seo. What ensues are a bunch of different storylines as the group gets split up, people lose their lives, and Gang-du and company not only has to contend against the Host but also against government plots that are exploiting this "epidemic" for their own gain.
On the surface, The Host might seem like another WETA created monster movie. In many respects it is. However, there is something about Gang-du's story mixed in with the chaos going on that really works to good effect. One can tell that in many ways this guy is the ultimate screw up. However, he obviously loves his daughter and he's not going to rest until he can get her back safely.
This film also mixes many themes that are relevant to today. The Host seemed to comment on 9/11 and terrorism, with the beast in this film serving as the ultimate terrorist. While they don't ever really try and humanize the Host, the movie seems to be a comment on the kind of situation that can be created by thoughtlessness (ie. the scientists dumping the chemicals into the river). There is also a fair amount of comedy employed so that this movie has a decent degree of levity. In some respects it reminded me a lot of Steven Chow's Kung Fu Hustle. There would be moments that in any other film would play to the height of pure melodrama, and just when you think you should be crying someone makes joke. There isn't a lot of this in The Host, but there is enough there that it keeps the film honest.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by how amazing the beast in this movie looked. It seemed to work seamlessly with the footage, and when it's running up behind people it is truly a sight to behold. In addition to that, all of the actors did a very good job of playing this movie seriously, while still being quite funny at times. The Host isn't the greatest monster movie I have ever screened, but it's certainly one that stays with you and is destined to be remembered as a solid installment in the monster film genre.