I'd been looking forward to The Host for years. Well, that's an exaggeration, but yet kind of true – I've been a Bong Joon Ho fan since I first laid eyes on Barking Dogs Never Bite for a Korean cinema class at Berkeley in early 2002. You can read all about it in my post "The Monster Cometh," from June last year.
I'd always shown Bong's first film to friends who'd asked to see a "representative" Korean film, and they'd always been very satisfied – much more so than Korean audiences, who "ho-hummed" and shrugged their shoulders at it when it came out. At the time, Koreans were generally still wigging out that there were Korean films with big budgets that looked like Hollywood films – Shiri, oh masterful piece of derivative crap that it was, being the first of them.
I still say that if I want to watch The Rock, I'll watch The Rock, not a movie named after a fish. If I want to watch Saving Private Ryan again, I'll watch that, and not Taegugki. To me, the success of Korean films was actually sabotaging their creativity; now used to chasing after the big bucks against Hollywood movies, it seemed like they were trying to out-Hollywood Hollywood itself. Suddenly, Korean film fan that I had been, I was no longer interested. Again, if I want to see Hollywood films, I'll see the originals, not Korean versions of them. Ho-hum.
But The Host brought me back, and I was happy to hear from Darcy Paquet (of KoreanFilm.org fame) about it, which he talked about (in episode #19, available to the left) way back in one of my early podcasts, but had to remain pretty tight-lipped about. But I was happy to hear that my favorite director was making a monster movie about some slimy thing that came up out of the Han River and acted as the foil against which to look at a slice of Korean society.
I was also even happier to get the chance to meet the director in person, as I helped do the subtitling for the translation job that Darcy had done. That was eminently cool. Too cool. I was too sheepish to ask for a picture, even though I could have easily done so after one of our sessions. Doh!
Now that the film has come out in the States, I must say I'm pretty happy at what sounds like a good first reception, and a good review – that "gets" the film – from Salon, no less. And they "get" the fact that film is far, far bigger than the label "anti-American" (which I addressed in a previous blog post as well), since its agenda had a few more fish to fry – well, broil a bit.
Yes, the fishy, flippery, 60-foot-long thingummy who emerges from the polluted waters of the Han River in central Seoul to terrorize the populace in "The Host" is the result of poison from an American military facility. Well, what the hell else would cause such a horrible mutation? The fertilizer off Uncle Hang-soo's farm? I don't think so.
There it is.
There's no question that Bong Joon-ho's film, which is the most satisfying monster movie in many years, takes some easy shots at the American military-technological colossus, and at the Korean government's sheepdog-like subservience to it. I'm inclined to interpret pretty much any junky old movie as a dialectical critique of whateverness, but in this case both the sanctimonious leftists and the contrarian critics are reading way too much into this simultaneously big-hearted and farcical adventure...The Americans are diabolical Strangeloves and the Koreans are two-faced sycophants. His hero, on the other hand, is Gang-du (Song Kang-ho), a middle-aged loser with a bad blond 'do who slumbers away the days at his dad's riverside squid shack. (That isn't any kind of a joke: Koreans really, really like squid.)
Hey. I like squid. You know you've been in Korea too long when you go to the Aquarium in Monterey and salivate when you look at the blue squid tanks. Or you see a picture of the first-ever picture of the giant squid they caught and you fantasize about how well it would go with beer. Beeeeeeer.
In the end, I'm just happy my name is in the film, in the end. Yep – that's right, uh-huh, uh-huh, my name's in a fiiiiiilm. Go crazy! It's ya birthday! Go crazy, it's –
But they spelled my name wrong. Michael H-U-N-T. Doh! Such is my life – get your name in the biggest film in Korean cinematic history, and...
Go see it, ma. At least I know you know my name. And for those of you really interested in going hardcore, listen to the audio commentary that Darcy, a couple friends, and I made.
Sync up them iPods and go see the movie twice. And look for my name!