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Box Front Korean Title: Gwoemul (“Creature”)
Director: Bong Joon-ho (Memories Of Murder)
Original Release Year: 2006
Running Time: 120 minutes
Official Websites: http://www.hostmovie.com/

DVD Released By: Magnolia Home Entertainment
Video: Anamorphic widescreen, 1.85:1 OAR
Audio: Korean 5.1, Korean 2.0, English 5.1, English 2.0 (all Dolby Digital)
Extras: Audio commentary, deleted scenes, deleted news clips, director Bong Joon-Ho’s reflections, previews, Easter egg
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captions: English
Region: 1
Format: NTSC
Chapters: 24
Packaging: Keepcase
MSRP: $26.98
UPC #: 876964000918
Catalog #: 10091
Status: Available


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Reviewed by:
Zillamon51
The Film: In the year 2000, morgue workers at a U.S. Army base in South Korea dump toxic chemicals into the Han River, which runs right through the heart of the capitol city, Seoul.  The horrific ramifications of this act will not be known until 2006….

Park Hee-bong, patriarch of the Park family, owns a food stand along the Han River.  Assisting him in running the business (at least when he’s not sleeping) is his adult son, Gang-du.  One day, shortly after Gang-du’s daughter Hyun-seo arrives after school, a crowd of onlookers spots something strange hanging from the Han River Bridge.  The dark form drops into the water and makes its way towards shore.  Emerging from the water is a grotesque mutant creature.  It’s the size of a city bus, and very fast.  The vicious monster goes on a feeding frenzy, rushing through the panicked crowds, grabbing and swallowing victim after victim.  As the horrified Park men watch helplessly, the creature makes Hyun-seo its final victim, snatching her up with its tail before diving back into the river.

The shocked witnesses are evacuated to City Hall, where a memorial display is set up.  There, Gang-du is joined by his younger siblings:  His sister Nam-joo, a competitive archer, and his brother Nam-il, an unemployed, heavy-drinking college grad.  Their tearful reunion is short-lived, however.  Everyone present is ushered away into medical quarantine.  Gang-du, who was splattered with mutant blood, is singled out for extensive (i.e. gruesome and painful) testing.  It seems the creature is the host (hence the title) of a deadly unknown virus.  Late that night, Gang-du is shocked when he receives a phone call from Hyun-seo!  His daughter is still alive in the creature’s sewer lair.  When their pleas for help are dismissed, the Park family has to escape the hospital and take matters into their own hands.  However, standing between them and Hyun-seo are corrupt bureaucrats, a paranoid public, a concrete labyrinth, and a deadly monster.

Over the years, Korea’s monster movie output has been sporadic and the overall quality wanting.  That makes it all the more surprising that
The Host is one of the best films in the genre.  The reason is, it’s more than just a clichéd thriller or popcorn action movie.  At its core is a dysfunctional family that must come together in the face of adversity to rescue one of their own.  The tribulations they face are not strictly of the mutant variety; the film has a palpable sense of mistrust towards government and authority.  The chemical-dumping incident that opens the film is based on a true event.  Not only is the overbearing presence of the U.S. responsible for the creature’s birth, but America also strong-arms its way into deploying a deadly biological weapon against it.  The virus scare is reminiscent of overblown concerns about SARS and “bird flu.”  From national governments all the way down to the cop who refuses to do a simple check of cell-phone records, the institutions that are supposed to help people fail miserably.

Of course, even when the Park family sets out on their own, things don’t go swimmingly.  This motley group are not action heroes by any stretch, despite Nam-joo’s skill with a bow and Nam-il’s experience as a former student protester.  The audience comes to like and identify with these characters, but not all of them are going to survive.  This makes the film powerful and involving, and keeps it rooted in reality.  Far from being a downer, however, the film has a healthy dose of dark humor to lighten things up, but never at the expense of thrills or scares.

At the heart of the film is the adorable schoolgirl, Hyun-seo.  She is smart, resourceful, and mature beyond her years (no doubt because her single father is more like a doofus big brother).  She even becomes the guardian of a little boy who’s trapped with her in the creature’s lair.  As for the monster, it’s kind of like a mutant tadpole with multiple appendages, a multi-hinged jaw, and a long prehensile tail.  It can gallop swiftly after prey, and even defy gravity by swinging like a monkey under the bridge; but it’s also clumsy at times, tripping over its own webbed feet or belly-flopping onto a truck.  In best kaiju fashion, it’s a cunning monster with personality.  The CGI used to bring it to life is very good.  It makes its first appearance at about the 12-minute mark, and starts its rampage (in broad daylight none the less) soon thereafter.  It’s one of the most exciting and effective monster attacks ever filmed.  There are only a few fakey shots later on that are easily overlooked given the overall quality of the production.

Beautifully filmed, with involving characters, excellent performances, good special effects, political subtext to spare, a dark sense of humor, and a nifty new monster,
The Host is one of the best monster movies ever made.  It’s a quantum leap in quality over Korea’s previous kaiju entry Reptilian, and it puts most American giant-critter-on-the-loose pictures like The Relic to shame.  No wonder it became the biggest box-office draw in South Korean film history.  Grade:  A

Video: The Host is presented in anamorphic widescreen.  The image is clear and sharp, with vivid colors and natural flesh tones.  The black level is quite deep, making some areas of the picture appear a bit too dark at times.  Overall though, it looks quite nice.  Grade:  A-

Audio: There are four audio options:  The film’s original Korean language, and an English dub, each presented in both Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround.  Overall sound quality is very good.  Of course, the 5.1 options are stronger and fuller all around.  Just pick the format that works best for your system.  As for the languages, stick with Korean.  The English dub is plagued with poor voices and awkward dialogue.  (Some of the English roles from the Korean version, such as the mortician’s assistant and Sgt. Donald, have been re-dubbed.)  Dubbing is for kids; adult viewers need not bother with it.  Grade:  A

Extras / Menus: The first extra is a feature-length audio commentary (entirely in English) by director Bong Joon-ho.  The moderator is British film critic Tony Rayns, who asks questions and guides the general direction of the conversation.  It’s informative but not terribly deep.  Unfortunately, the film’s many political undertones are addressed only briefly.  Discussion of special effects technique is limited to pointing out which FX shots were physical and where CGI was used.  This is for the best, since overly technical commentaries can become tedious, but there are no FX-related extras elsewhere on the disc.

The other special features are:  Deleted scenes, deleted news clips, and director Bong Joon-ho’s reflections.  The deleted scenes run 23 minutes, and are divided between “people scenes” and creature shots.  Running 5 minutes, the news clips are extended versions of faux news reports used in the film.  The director’s reflections is 5 minutes of Mr. Bong apologizing to several groups of people for various things related to making the film.  All these extras are in Korean with optional English subtitles.  They are presented in fullscreen, except for the deleted scenes, which are in anamorphic widescreen.  There is also a very brief, easy-to-find Easter egg.

When the disc first starts, there are previews / promos for
Dynamite Warrior (a Thai action movie), Severance (a slasher satire), The Signal (either a Pulse rip-off that’s a year late, or a Cell rip-off that’s a year early), and HD Net that play automatically when the disc starts up.  They can be skipped through.  There isn’t an option elsewhere on the menus to access them later.  The main and special features menus are animated with sound; the others are silent, anamorphic still images.  Grade:  B (There is also a 2-disc Collector’s Edition with many more extras available.)

Final Analysis: Every monster movie fan should see The Host.  It’s a surprisingly deep, artistic, and affecting genre effort.  It’s presented well on this DVD, with very good picture and sound, and some basic extras.  Since there’s also a 2-disc Collector’s Edition available for only a few dollars more, this version serves mostly as a rental item.  Final Grade:  B+
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