Our story opens in the morgue on a U.S. Military base in Korea, in which the uncaring American doctor orders his Korean assistant to dump hundreds of bottles of contaminated formaldehyde down the drain, despite the other man's protests that it will go straight into the Han River. "That's right, dump it in the river" says the American like he's talking to a stupid child. Duh. A couple of years later two fisherman find a creepy little critter that we never see, as it bites one of them and escapes.
A few years after that, in 2006, our monster's had six years to grow and decides to go public during a bright sunny day when everyone is out. And it's one of the best monster rampages I've ever seen on film. The beast is like a reverse T-rex, a giant tadpole thing that runs on its massive front legs while grabbing at people with its smaller rear legs and long, prehensile tail.
The scene is total chaos, as the thing runs to and fro causing mayhem and occasionally gobbling somebody up in its huge jaws. It's an admirable choice to serve up so much monster at the beginning of the film, and to show it running around in broad daylight like this.
In the middle of the action is our main character Gang-Du, equal parts brave and stupid, who makes the major blunder of grabbing the wrong girl's hand while his daughter is left behind as monsta food. She's grabbed up by the huge tail and the beast makes its exit.
A truly amazing action scene, remeniscent of that first horrific rampage Godzilla pulls in NYC in the 1998 Devlin/Emmerich flopasaurus. And like that turkey, The Host steadily tromps downwards in quality until you've forgotten that you were excited about it at all.
One thing I'd heard about this flick from numerous sources was the unWestern way the Korean filmmakers would insert humor into scenes you'd think would be serious. I heard this couched both as compliment and critique, although I'm definitely leaning towards the latter myself. The first post-rampage scene takes place at a local relief center, where photos of those killed in the incident are on display. Gang-Du's siblings and father writhe around wracked with grief until the pathos turns excruciatingly awkward. Was this meant to be funny? Can't tell ya. Later that night, Gang-Du gets a cell phone call from his daughter, who's still alive but trapped in the beast's underground lair.
The Host has a strong anti-authority message, starting with the family's failed attempts to tell the cops that the girl is alive...during which nobody looks at the father's cell phone!!! Right? Isn't that the first thing you'd do? "Look, here's the call, look when I got it."
This sloppiness starts choking the movie quickly and pretty soon is banging the movie's head against the wall, demanding its wallet. The authorities release a warning that the monster is carrying a deadly virus; this later turns out to be a lie perpetrated so that...so nothing. No motive is ever given for this story. At the very end we see a news conference of which exactly one word is intelligible: "misinformation." The monster was never a host of anything, which means the movie's title is meaningless and we, the viewing public, were also lied to.
JPX saw this during its U.S. release last March and dubbed it "disappointing." Bullseye! While I highly recommend checking it out for that opening, I'm going to list the rest of the bummers below. This is spoiler city, because sometimes a disappointing flick can be doable if you're prepared.
-- The main character is too much of a fuckup to sympathize with at all. He directly causes his father's death by handing him an unloaded gun.
-- After that amazing opening there's not nearly enough screentime fighting monsters or even doing anything interesting. There are long, irritating, pointless sequences of Gang-Du getting prodded by doctors and whining.
-- There's all this noise about using a toxic bioweapon which has a lethal range of miles. When it's deployed, our heroes are standing about twenty feet away and it does nothing except make them blink, nor does it harm the monster. You spend the whole scene going "what? what?"
-- The girl dies! After all that crap, the dad gets to the lair too late and when he pulls his daughter from the monster's gullet she's dead. The little orphan boy she was protecting lives, so he trades her in and we're supposed to feel good about that. Screw you, movie.