Give it up for The Host, a weird monster movie classic.
This week, the trailer for Okja, a new Netflix original film, dropped. It’s set to premiere this summer, and we’re terribly excited about it—partly because its cast is stacked as hell, starring Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Korean child actress Ahn Seo-hyun, who is almost certainly going to be one of the breakout stars of the summer. Okja is also exciting because it’s the next film from Bong Joon-ho, most famous in America as the director of Snowpiercer. But before that, Joon-ho directed The Host, a wonderfully weird Korean monster movie that’s quietly lived on Netflix for years now, and worth revisiting before Joon-ho returns with a very different sort of strange monster movie.
As far as movie monsters went, the one at the center of The Host was a weird one—a wicked mean salamander with a mouth that had way too many hinges and teeth and a long grabby tail. The result of a chemical dump into the Han River by American military scientists, the monster isn’t really a huge, city-razing threat. Instead, it’s a ravenous amphibian the size of a bus, able to slip away in the water and largely out of sight for much of the movie’s run time.
This is likely due to budget considerations—the effects that bring the monster to life in The Host have certainly aged, but not to the point where it stops being enjoyable—but The Host is also a monster movie in a long tradition of monster movies where the monster isn’t really the point. It’s of the Godzilla school of thought, where the monster is only really there as a stand-in for a geopolitical issue of some sort. Where Godzilla is a Japanese film about atomic anxiety, The Host is indirectly about tensions between South Korea and America, and satirizes the disregard for the environment displayed by the latter nation.
But what probably makes The Host so unique in the wider monster movie canon is its protagonist. Park Gang-du (played by Korean superstar Song Kang-ho, who you’ll recognize from Snowpiercer) is a complete deadbeat, a frumpy, directionless slob who’s kind of just okay with his own listlessness. It’s a lead role of a sort that you don’t really see in American cinema—akin to casting someone in the mold of Seth Rogen or Chris Farley, but without setting them free to make dumb fart jokes. It’s also really effective on a narrative level. Park is thrust into action when the monster kidnaps his daughter, and is forced to finally be responsible and track the monster in an effort to save his daughter.
Because of all this, The Host is the sort of genre film that’s perfect for people who aren’t really into them. It’s blockbuster-on-a-budget vibe means its characters all matter, and you’re invested in whether or not they make it. It’s fun without being dumb (except for where it wants to be) and tense without being too scary. If you do want to get scared, however, we hear there’s a new Alien movie out.
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