The Host is another great example of what I love most about Korean movies: it’s a creature-feature, a family drama, a snotty satire and a thrill ride, all at the same time. It’s hard enough to make a movie in any one of those tones, but somehow Bong Joon-ho (director of the equally-excellent Memories of Murder) manages to round all four bases without stumbling. He accomplishes the same trick that Steven Spielberg did with the original Jaws, but in a slightly broader and more comic way: he makes you care about the people onscreen, too, so when the monster appears it’s not just chasing human chum.
Host stars one of my favorite Korean actors, Kang-Ho Song (he of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, JSA, Shiri, and Memories of Murder itself) as Gang-du, a shiftless fellow who runs a snack stand with his father, daughter and sister on the banks of Seoul’s Han River. He’s not much of a worker — in fact, he’s not much of anything — but he dearly loves his daughter Hyun-seo and does little things for her like sock away spare change to buy her a new cellphone. (Never mind most of that money has been skimmed from the till.) His father, Hee-bong (Hie-bong Byeon), indulges all of them, especially his son, now that there’s no mother around to do that job for them. Read more
Most people get it all wrong. if.... is not a story about a British boy’s school that begins with conformity and ends in anarchy, because the anarchy was always there in plain sight. It’s just slipped in so casually at first that we gloss over it, and its real nature is disguised from us as long as possible. We pass it all off as youthful excess or boyish dissipation or harmless eccentricity, in probably the same way as the masters of College House (the fictitious school in the film). Kids will play, and they need a firm hand to guide them — even if the guiding hands in question are every bit as bored and complacent as most of the boys themselves are bored and unruly. By the time if.... so infamously explodes, with a conclusion that’s been compared (if only superficially and misleadingly) to the Columbine massacre, we’ve somehow been able to see it coming. We just didn’t know how we’d get hit with it.
But the pieces are all there, right from the beginning. “Run! Run in the corridor!” one of the headmasters bellows at the new students or “scum” crowding in. Is he taunting them, or the movie just skewed like that? In the same veins, the boys pin pictures of Che Guevara and Mao over their desks; the teachers ride bicycles through the corridors to class and tantalize their students with lectures that go a great many places without actually imparting any wisdom. “Work, play, but don’t mix the two,” the headmaster admonishes them all, while homosexual flirtations and brutal hazings happens in the teacher’s lounge and in the dormitories. Read more