Monster movies have become hostages to parody. What is required is a return to the innocent shock values of Jaws and Jurassic Park, because all you can do now with a creature from the black lagoon is spoof it to death.

The Host is a most unlikely saviour of the genre. It is South Korean for starters. It is funny, scary and races along at a fierce pace. This is the real thing, not a circus show with heroes and victims, made by a man who will use pastiche only as a satirical weapon to expose official stupidity or bureaucratic incompetence.

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At the centre is a family who own a food stall beside the Han River in Seoul. There is old dad and youngest son Gang-du (Song Kang-ho), who is so lazy he can't stay awake; and Gang-du's daughter Hyun-seo (Ko Al-sung) - how could this useless teenage slob get it together to father a child, and with whom? Of course, he's in his twenties and only behaves like a teen dropout because life as a stall keeper is SO boring. Also present are Hyun-seo's uncle, an aggressive drunk, and aunt, an Olympic archer.

When the creature is first spotted, hanging like a great bat under one of the bridges, the crowds on the riverbank are inquisitive and enthralled. When it unfolds and dives into the water, they are intrigued as if watching a giant ray. But when it leaps onto the shore to attack them, there is widespread panic. During this state of terror, Hyun-seo is taken and Gang-du is beside himself, suddenly energised in his attempt to save her.

The film is more complex than an Iron Man scenario in which the armed forces are brought in to blast the creature to kingdom come and everyone is evacuated and there are scenes of devastation, followed by feelings of pity for the monster. The effects are sensational and the creature acts in a way that King Kong would find unacceptable. The authorities talk of a deadly virus and the Americans are mocked for ignorant interference. No one knows what to do and so they do the wrong things, wearing protective suits and looking like moon men, as Gang-du and his family search for Hyun-seo, who is trapped in the creature's larder.

This is a magnificent achievement for writer/director Bong Joon-ho, whose only other feature film was the serial killer mystery Memories Of Murder in 2003. He has not so much reinvented the monster movie. He has returned it to its proper place. In the real world.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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A toxic monster terrorises Seoul.
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Read more The Host reviews:

Anton Bitel ****1/2
Chris **

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Writer: Baek Chul-hyun, Bong Joon-ho, Ha Won-jun

Starring: Song Kang-ho, Byeon Hie-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Du-na, Ko Ah-sung

Year: 2006

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea

Festivals:

EIFF 2006
Resfest 2006

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