Why Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host” Deserves a Second Look

Why Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host” Deserves a Second Look

Genre films are a great way to see the world for what it is. Monster movies may have giant destructive creatures, but the real monsters are the people behind the creatures.

The Host (2006) is Bong Joon-ho’s Godzilla (1954): it is a monster movie where the monster is created by ignorance and the people at the center of it deal with life’s issues. In Godzilla (1954) the daughter of the paleontologist in charge of studying the monster is in the middle of breaking off an arranged engagement because of the love she has for a ship captain. In The Host, a dysfunctional family is forced to come together to save on of their own. In both movies the monsters are awoken by military activity. Governments are supposed to be made up of the people we are meant to trust, but are more often than not the cause of violence and the endangerment its people. The heroes of these stories are the people. In Godzilla, it’s the ship captain and daughter of the paleontologist. In The Host, it’s the Park family.

The family runs a food stand on the river. Park Hee-bong, his son, Gang-du, and his granddaughter Hyun-seo sell grilled octopus, beer and candy. When something is spotted hanging from underneath the bridge, a crowd gathers by the water to observe. The creature then extends its long fish-like body and dives into the water. Gang-du and others try to feed it with their food and beer cans, but instead their actions incite it to attack them. It charges at people and swallows them. As people run from it, Gang-du spots Hyun-seo and grabs her hand. He runs with her, but she slips his grasp. He notices too late and when he turns to find her he sees her taken by the monster who recedes into the water.

Everyone at the scene of the incident gathers at the community center for a mass funeral. On a wall there are framed photos of all the deceased including Hyon-seo. The rest of the family also comes to mourn her including her aunt, Nam-joo, a professional archer and her alcoholic uncle, Nam-il. The funeral is interrupted when a hazmat-suit wearing official gets the crowd’s attention and asks if anybody came into contact with the creature. Gang-du raises his hand and admits to having some of its blood sprayed on him. Gang-du is immediately taken into custody to be tested on at a military facility. The zone of the incident is put under a militarized quarantine.

While at the facility, Gang-du receives a call from Hyun-seo who is still alive but trapped in the creature’s lair; a dark and damp pit in the heart of the city’s sewers. After the call he tries to explain to the doctors that she is still alive. However, a new theory that the creature is the host of a brand-new virus has arisen and is being spread by the media. The doctors believe this virus is making Gang-du delusional. No matter how much he begs and pleads, nobody at the facility except his family believes him. The three of them leave Gang-du at the hospital so they can save Hyun-seo. They enlist the services of a local gang to get them out of the military quarantine and they go searching the sewers for her.

Bong Joon-ho has always made films about division. His adaptation of the graphic novel Snowpiercer and his most recent original film, Parasite, are both about class division. The Host is about the division between a government and its people. The media’s portrayal of the unknown virus is graphic in its detail showing people with growths on their back and announcing death tolls. Except, there actually is no sound evidence to support the claims. The symptoms have no consistency, misattributing pictures and videos of people with rashes and scarring with the virus. The government’s obsession with Gang-du and this supposed virus leans more to the workings of a mad scientist than it does a scientist who’s in search of truth. They’re ignorance is deeper than ever. They focus on the virus more than tracking down the creature.

The Host is a political satire inspired by a real-life incident which created an anti-American uproar. The film begins with an American military pathologist who orders his assistant to dump bottles of formaldehyde into the sink, which would eventually lead to the Han River. The true story is pretty similar: Albert McFarland, the top official at a U.S. military morgue in South Korea ordered two of his workers to dump about 160 bottles of formaldehyde, which would end up going into the Han River. Bong said in an interview that when he heard this story he knew it would a great starting off point for a movie. It’s similar to the inspiration for Godzilla. These manifestations of monsters represent the underlying monstrous nature of these acts. Nuclear weapons testing and dumping chemical waste are both selfish acts. They endanger the environment as well as the population. The implication of nuclear weapons is monstrous alone. And these movie creatures are terrific ways to entertain people while beginning important conversations about the moralities of states, countries and governments and where we all stand in this as the population.

At the center of Godzilla is a romance and at the center of The Host it is a family drama. No matter the satirical take, there always has to be a heart and relatable aspect to these films to tie it all together into a satisfying package. When the mad scientist aspect comes into play the film is heightened and has a cartoonish element to it. It is there to represent something real, but is also darkly funny.

The Parks are a dysfunctional family. Gang-du is, by his own family’s admission, a dimwit who has trouble staying awake; Nam-il is a recent college graduate who spends his days getting drunk; and Nam-joo, despite her talent lacks the confidence to be great. All the while Hee-bong is just trying to run a food stand and make ends meet. It takes beyond imaginable circumstances to bring them together: the loss of a family member at the hands of a real-life monster. When greater issues arise the small petty things that make some families a pool of judgement are washed away. It takes perspective sometimes to set aside differences and work together. Bong weaved together something truly brilliant that stands the test of time to still be one of the most thought-provoking monster movies ever made.

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