Movie Review: The Host / Gwoemul (2006)

The Host / Gwoemul (dir. Bong Joon-ho, 2006) – A family of four will do anything to rescue their youngest, from the monster that has risen from the depths of Han River.

Verdict

Far exceeding the purpose of monstrous chaos, the creature feature finds heart in a moving story of a dysfunctional family’s last shot at redemption.

4/5

Review

Eco-degradation has serious consequences. The Host personifies the danger into a living creature, whose mutation had resulted from chemical toxins that were irresponsibly dumped into Seoul’s Han River. With no purpose beyond destruction, the monster ravages the city and stores its human prey for food. Among its kidnapped victims is Hyun-seo (Ko Ah-sung), whose family would do anything to get her back.

As with how the World War’s nuclear anxieties had birthed Gojira back in 1954, the inspiration behind Gwoemul is also found in a real-world incident. In 2002, a South Korean employee of the U.S. military poured 20 gallons of formaldehyde into the same river, leading to anti-American protests by various environmentalist groups.

The Host
“Is that… an American remake?”

With its literal monster that also led onto demonstrations, The Host clearly satirises the scandal. But the social critique is outshone by the familial drama at its heart. The monster’s victim has a loving family, if dysfunctional amongst its adult relations. Her father Park Gang-doo (Song Kang-ho) is despised for his underachieving demeanour and ineptitude in his work, even if he does his best in fatherhood.

His estranged siblings Nam-Il (Park Hae-Il) and Nam-Joo (Bae Doo-na) make the animosity clear. Only Hee-Bong (Byun Hee-Bong) stands by his son, having seen his pains and earnestness, where the others could not. It is only when young Hyun-seo vanishes that all four are forced to understand each other, and reconcile for the dangerous rescue.

Superb characterisation easily draws emotional connection to the accidental heroes. Their sometimes vexatious flaws humanise them as genuine, and imperfect but with good intentions. Having the monster always at close quarters also sustains discernible peril, though true menace is often human in nature too.

The Host
Another political conspiracy, another ordinary day for Bae Doo-na.

Determined to keep the true origins of the toxins secret, the South Korean government has purported the monster as a host of a fatal virus, so that they may put witnesses in quarantine. The Park family then becomes the target of the Government for not following the quarantine orders and suspecting the official word.

They were right, of course. The spread of paranoia is nothing but a distraction to quell questions. But apathy towards eco-damage allows this easy untruth to spread, protecting politicians to the detriment of the citizenry.

Bureaucracy takes a hit in this layered tale, concerned with more than simply evoking dread. By finding a humane arc in what had begun as a creature feature, The Host assaults with surprisingly sharp purpose and relevance, leaving a powerful dent in its wake.

8 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Host / Gwoemul (2006)”

  1. A wonderful review Jade. It really is a spectacular movie and the monster design is very admirable. Bong Joon- ho seems to really know how to visually project his thoughts on screen with how his movies are directed, such seen in his later movies of Snowpiercer and Okja.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers for reading, Sonea! As a huge fan of monster movies, this one is certainly impressive. Bong Joon-ho’s one of the few directors who can deliver a thoughtful narrative, without neglecting the visual front. Can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with next. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The first time i saw this movie, I half paid attention. I was too young to appreciate it. I (accidentally) rewatched a couple years later and thought it was really, really well done.

    Speaking of well done – another great review! Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this film. The great thing about it, is that is not just another monster movie. It’s so much more. This director certainly knows how to mee a terrific film. I loved Memories of Murder for instance, which is another movie by him that I highly recommend of you haven’t seen it yet. As always: terrific post, great to see a movie review again 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely! With this, Mother, and Okja, Bong Joon-ho is quickly becoming one of my favourite directors. He just knows to find the most relatable stories across any genre. Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll hunt down Memories of Murder for sure. Appreciate your kind words, as always! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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