I have this theory about why manga fans
would year after year swear by that art form's superiority
to American comics. When those otaku first started hammering
at my sensibilities, we were only getting the best of what
had been done. To be fair, I was guilty of that same attitude
when it came to British television. We had not yet seen
Get ready for a wave of raving about Korean
horror films, because this summer saw the mainstream DVD
release of a definite high-point. Albeit with some special
effects done in the U.S., The Host creates a new
spin on the old-fashioned rubber-suit monster idea, slimy
and utterly satisfying.
As the director's commentary explains,
The Host started from an actual incident at a military
base in Korea. Added to writer/director Joon-ho Bong's desire
to do a modern monster movie, this real contamination of
the Han River spawns one grotesque mutant fish/squid/whoknows
thing that helps bring a man-child (Kang-ho Song) to adulthood
and responsibility, but at a terrible price.
Though the DVD defaults to an English dubbing
track, the film makes a little more sense in the subtitled
version over the original Korean soundtrack. Its dialogue
is a little tighter this way, more precise without the strange
conversation fillers that Asian dubbers always seem to require.
That precision helps with the obvious cultural differences,
but also shows what a good writer Bong is.
He's a clever scenarist, dropping little plot clues in to
the first few minutes of the film that pay off throughout.
Yet they're so subtle it really takes a second viewing to
appreciate them. He's also good at weaving in his subtext.
Though the film looks to start off as a condemnation of
the U.S. military, Bong has bigger fish to fry, allowing
Americans and Koreans to be both heroic and villainous.
Except it's not so much villainous as tragically ignorant.
The monster, however, is far from misunderstood.
It's a spry eating machine, and Bong stages its first attack
with a comedic flair. You'll laugh even as you start getting
Aside from the standard commentary, the
disc offers an unintentionally funny extra. Labeled as a
director looking back, the featurette consists of Bong apologizing
to all the cast and extras whose work got cut from the film.
Okay, so it's kind of endearing; what American director
would think to do that?
Here's hoping that Bong never loses that
thoughtfulness. Maybe we need to make sure he never becomes
an American director, instead continuing to make films like
The Host that will convince everyone Korean cinema
is a force to be reckoned with.