The Host Bong Joon-ho

The monster movie gets a hugely satisfying makeover in this funny and frightening horror romp. After toxic chemicals are dumped into Seoul’s Han river (at the behest of an American doctor with a pathological hatred of dust), a giant tadpole creature slithers out to wreak havoc and nosh on the citizenry. Extremely dim snack bar clerk Gang-du is initially devastated when his daughter is one of the ingested but then a phone call suggests that she’s merely a captive, prompting her family to roam the sewers looking to kick tadpole butt. The problem: they’ve been quarantined by the authorities. This could have easily been a joke-y mess, but director Bong Joon-ho manages to strike the right balance between humour and chills, often in the same scene. It’s a high-wire act that threatens to crash down at any moment, but Bong manages to keep the plates spinning for the duration with masterful direction and subtle switches from mockery to poignancy. The film is witty and pointed without being pretentious, and action-packed without insulting your intelligence, with an extremely well-designed monster and some nicely aimed digs at Americans and the SARS crisis sealing the deal. In fact, it puts Kong and Godzilla to shame with its sheer cinematic brio and swift getting to the point, whereas other movies would goose you with faux drama and Joseph Campbell blather. You keep expecting it to run out of steam like most pop movies but it somehow never does, and the climactic movements are big enough to make you think that this might be a classic of the form. Anybody looking for a good time at the movies should look no further; The Host is guaranteed fun, and I urge you to seek it out, should it be graced with a North American release. (Chungeorahm)