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Movie Review: The Host, A Big Monster Movie With A Big Heart

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This South Korean monster movie swept the nation and now is on the brink of being released in North America. Since its release last year, The Host has been praised by critics at the Cannes Film Festival and has made legions of die-hard fans.

The Host is inspired by the real story of illegal chemical dumping in the Han River, the river that runs right through Seoul. The fear that the toxins in the water would have dangerous effects on the public prompted the writers to concoct this tale.

In the film, the chemicals mutate the marine life of the river and consequently, a large fish-like monster arises from the deep. But this is not the typical 'monster runs amok in a large metropolis' film; at its core there’s a family drama with some laughs and an environmental message.

The Park family, proprietors of a small riverside restaurant/convenience store, who bicker amongst themselves constantly, are bound together tightly when the young Hyun Seo, daughter of Gang Du, is captured by the monster and dragged to its underwater lair. They beg the military and the police to help them search for the missing child, but they are met with apathy and are dismissed. So, against all odds, the family break the security cordon around the area to search for her themselves.

Director Joon-ho Bong has made a decent drama that doesn’t get too sappy and at the same time a decent monster movie that doesn’t go over the top with cheesy effects and dialog. Instead of making the movie dead serious, it has elements of comedy which make it much more appealing and interesting to watch. The monster plays a large role, but the family rallying together takes the bulk of the film. We get to see the monster relatively early on in the film and the special effects don't disappoint.

The cast is made up of some veteran actors from Korean cinema and television: Kang So Song plays the lazy but good-hearted Gang Du; Ah-Sung Ko plays the cheerful, Hyun Seo; Hie-Bong Byeon plays the crotchety old grandpa, Hie-bong; Du-na Bae plays the athletic sister of Gang Du, Nam Joo; Hae-il Park plays the dyspeptic activist, Nam Il.

There is a small cameo from character actor Paul Lazar (of Mickey Blue Eyes, and the remake of The Manchurian Candidate), who plays a HAZMAT doctor who wants to help the Park family. He provides a ray of sunshine from the American involvement in the catastrophe. Unlike his counterparts, he shows real concern for the Park family and wishes he could help.

The film is decent entertainment during its two-hour run time. It doesn’t push any boundaries or break any new ground but it works well inside the genre. It has cheesy moments, heartfelt moments, and there are a few good laughs, so check it out when it's released on March 9, 2007.

Watch the trailer.

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