It's big and ugly, and before it started terrorizing innocent Koreans, it was a tadpole. Then a careless American doctor at a local military base ordered hundreds of gallons of formaldehyde dumped into the Han River. The creature swallowed the toxin; now the thing is 30 ft. long, has 10 legs, looks like an angry Muppet and is itching for mischief. U.S. scientists have yet more dire news: the beast is the host for a deadly virus that could wipe out everyone in Seoul or-- dare we say it--the world!
The Host is itself a bizarre hybrid: both a popular hit (South Korea's all-time box-office champ) and a critics' choice, having played to acclaim at the Cannes and New York festivals. The film's plot is also pretty splitty: part old-time sea- or sewer-mutant movie in the tradition of Godzilla and Them! and part trigenerational comedy-drama about a weird family--sort of a Little Miss Korean Sunshine. The difference is that instead of a dead old man in the van, the Park family has a little girl (Ko A-sung) missing in the belly of the beast. Then director Bong Joon-ho sets one more plate spinning, with easy-to-spot political metaphors for U.S. influence in Korea and sleight-of-hand in Iraq. If this madly entertaining movie has a fault, it's that it's too ingenious for the genre it ostensibly inhabits.
The poor Park family seems farcically overmatched by the monster. The sharpshooter dad runs out of bullets; the girl archery expert can't shoot straight. Actually, you won't want them to kill the monster, not right away, since it has lots of its own eccentricities. The creature is less vicious than playful, a showboating athlete that does high-bar 360s on a bridge rail and backflips into the river. When it hits land, it lopes like Marmaduke next to its ostensible victims; it treats any human in its mouth more as a chew toy than as lunch. If the movie is remade for the U.S. market, expect kids to beg for those monster toys.
But Hollywood is sure to sand and sanitize this film's quirks. See the real thing now, not a ghost of The Host later.