Friday, May 15, 2009

The Host

Movies at Random is again at random! Hooray!

So, to celebrate, let's have Korean action movie.

Actually, in spite of the at random bit of Movies at Random, the Host is quite timely. With the paranoia about swine flu spreading all over the world, it's only appropriate that the movie that relaunches the random part of this little project deals with, at least in a small part, paranoia about a virus. There's also a big monster which, if you squint, might look like a pig, which people think carry the virus. You would almost think it's about swine flu if it wasn't for the fact that it was made a couple years ago.

At the very beginning of the movie, we're at a US military base, with a doctor who is paranoid about dust. In spite of the protests of his Korean helper, he demands a large amount of toxic chemical be poured down a drain and into a river, because we need an environmental message with our big monster movies. This is a rule, which has gone unchallenged for many a millennium, or at least since Godzilla hit film screens. So human - or specifically, American - short sightedness creates a monster.

So, of course, the Park family - lazy Gang-Du, who is not going to win any father of the year awards, his daughter Hyun-Seo, and his dad, sister and brother, whose names I can't figure out - gets caught in the middle when the eventual monster rises from the depth, terrorizes their snack shack and kidnaps Hyun-Seo. Also, people assume poor Gang-Du has a virus, so he keeps getting taken to the hospital whenever he tries to get out and rescue her. Eventually, the family has to band together and save the day, because neither the governments of South Korea or America can figure out how. Considering how dumb the Park family is, that's saying something.

This is a monster movie in the grand tradition of monster movies that aren't American, because America hasn't had a handle on the genre since King Kong (see, crappy American Godzilla, Cloverfield). There's a monster that is the result of some human flaw, and then people have to fight to save themselves from it. In this case, the film is tilted heavily towards the comedy side of the spectrum, with a lot of slapstick moments and a dash of satire. Americans are portrayed are stubborn fools, and South Korea is mocked because it lets them be that way.

The film is pretty openly a satire of American foreign policy. Apparently the opening scene actually happened, at least according to the internet which is never wrong. But the rest of it is pretty openly mocking America. The way they search for a virus even though there actually isn't one, and the way they take over from Korea when containing the monster by unleashing highly dangerous toxic materials. Americans in this picture are seen as big, stupid idiots who impose themselves on smaller countries because they think they know best.

But if you're not American, or if you are an American that can handle your country being openly mocked, there are some good things here. It's a fast paced action movie, and some of the slapstick moments are quite funny. Sure, the tone can be kindly considered erratic, leaping merrily between serious dramatic moments and wacky slapstick comedy, the most jarring tonal shift happening at a memorial. The ending is a bit of a bummer too, especially considering it's for the most part a crowd pleasing action-comedy.

Still, the monster bits are pretty great, and while it's made entirely of CG the monster itself isn't distractingly out of place, which is a rare achievement. It's fun and can even be a bit scary at times. It's got great stylish cinematography (like every single Korean movie I've ever seen, which is impressive for the country), the acting is mostly good, and as a Canadian I do like America getting taken down a peg. Sorry Americans, it's nothing personal.

I hesitate to call this a great movie though. It's fun, and often clever, but it doesn't flow that well and there are a surprisingly large number of lulls in the action. And there are also those tonal shifts, which are just a bit too random for their own good. The problem is that it's just not quite cohesive enough, about three or four script rewrites until it's properly good. Just being fun isn't enough to be quality.

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