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The Host

By Adam Thomas

Saturday March 31, 2007

The Monsters We Make

There’s long history of science and fiction slamming together to give us creatures that disturb us, scare us and sometimes even eat us up. Horror and science fiction are both genres that have traditionally been seen as works of fantasy. But they also serve as vehicles of warning: offering up possibilities of scientific achievement, sometimes unintentional, and then suggesting the worst possible consequences. Whether it’s The Fly or Frankenstein, the tragic outcomes for both man and monster are a result of humans tampering with the forces of nature. Experiments where Man is God never turn out very well, and the fallibility of the creator is reflected in the creature itself, invariably bringing about a tragic end while also serving as a metaphor for our own failure when we play with possibilities of life.

Balancing these themes is the highest grossing Korean film in history, Joon-ho Bong’s The Host. More than just a genre film, it plays with the expectations and rules of the genre; it is a modern monster movie that is overtly political. It juggles both the social and political consequences of human ignorance while offering up some fun thrills, comedic social commentary and a pretty good looking mutant monster. Like it’s 1954 Japanese godfather Godzilla (who was a result of nuclear testing in the South Pacific), the monster in The Host is the result of negligent American practices. Unlike Godzilla, which was originally edited to remove the more anti-American aspects, The Host revels in them.

Inspired by an actual incident where the US Army dumped tons of toxic chemicals in to the Han river, the creature in The Host is born when an American military doctor, stationed in Korea, orders a whole whack of toxic chemicals poured down the drain. Two months later a gigantic mutant monster rises out of the Han River to eat and squash the local inhabitants. When the daughter of a local family is abducted by the creature, the slightly dysfunctional family must band together to save the daughter and their riverside snack stand.

While it downplays the gore, the film is full of social satire as Bong lampoons everything from Korean society to the political failure of environmentalism to the prevalence of American influence around the world. The Host as a monster is a product of an outsider’s arrogance, and the consequences on the local population prove deliciously devastating.

To this extent the insatiable Host plays to the view that American culture is eating up every thing it can, only to disappear back into the depths and the safety of the shadows. It takes the concerted effort of a family or culture to turn back the monster at their shores, and they must look past their own individual differences and resolve to fight the threats that face them.

True to form, The Host is a self-aware creature feature made for today. It’s an ironic film with a wry sense of humour and a love of its genre. And like all good monster flicks, it’s all about the little guy who stands up to the monster as the beast opens up to eat him. And whether it’s the result of intentional human meddling in the order of the universe or simply that of negligence, the creations born at the hands of men always bring about destruction and mayhem and inevitably show us for what we truly are: short sighted and ignorant puppet-masters, helpless to stop the monsters of our own creation.