April 12, 2007

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The Host (R)
A giant, people eating bass-with-legs terrorizes a family in a Korean town in The Host.

Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko) is a charming girl who is the pride of her slacker father Gang-Du (Kang-ho Song) and her snack-cart-running grandfather Hie-bong (Hie-bong Byeon), her drunk uncle Nam-il (Hae-il Park) and her archery-pro aunt Nam-Joo (Du-na Bae). One day while Hyun-seo and Gang-Du are hanging out in the snack cart watching Nam-Joo on TV, Gang-Du is called outside to deliver some snacks to customers. He wanders over to their towel where everyone is watching some strange thing hanging from the bridge. It drops into the water and swims closer to the edge. It seems to disappear but then suddenly it pops out of the water. Black and slick it is a giant sharp-toothed bass thing with legs and tentacle-like tail-things. It rampages through the crowd, knocking some people over and eating others. Gang-Du sees Hyun-seo standing outside and he grabs her arm and runs, only to look back and see that Hyun-seo is swept up by the creature and swallowed.

Later, the family convenes at a shelter and weeps together over their lost child. But that night, Gang-Du receives a call from Hyun-seo. Sheís alive and stuck in a sewer. Thus the siblings and their father set off in a van to find and save Hyun-seo.

Iím not the first one to point this out but The Host is a lot like Little Miss Sunshine. Thereís a van, there are a bunch of wacky relatives, there are a bunch of wacky problems, thereís a cute kid the love for whom is bigger than the relativesí annoyance with each other. Sure, Little Miss Sunshine didnít have a giant bass trying to eat people but it did have a beauty pageant and thatís about as weird.

Because of the bass and the threat of eminent death, The Host isnít quite as uproariously funny as Little Miss Sunshine but it is funny, even later when the family is fighting the bass with firebombs itís a funny movie. Thereís a charm and a likeability to these characters, even when theyíre henpecking each other. The movie is also genuinely scary, perhaps all the more so because there are moments of funny between moment of people getting eaten by a fish. You feel for this family and you want them to get their Hyun-seo back just as you start to suspect that she might be strong enough to fight off the bass on her own.

Throughout the action, American a few characters pop up, one creepy and stupid, one heroic and stupid. We donít come off quite as badly as the people-eating bass but Americans donít win favorite foreigners prize either. This particular aspect of the movie isnít strident, however, and somehow adds to both the charm and the pathos of the story. B+

Rated R for creature violence and language. Directed Joon-ho Bong and written by Chul-hyun Baek, Joon-ho Bong and Jun-won Ha, The Host is in Korean with English subtitles, is two hours long and is distributed in limited release by Magnolia Pictures.