Wednesday, February 26, 2014

ENG 282 Week 6: The Host (South Korea: Bong Joon-Ho, 2006)

Archive of Resources for the film

Emily Hensley's response

“The Host” is a South Korean film directed by Bong Joon-Ho back in 2006. This film sets the audience up for an exciting ride about the destruction and recreation of one Korean family. In the beginning of the film an American mortician forces his Korean assistant to dump hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde into the Han River just because the bottles “were dusty.” Several years later a mutated creature rises from the Han River and begins feasting on the innocent bystanders.

This film is centered on the Park family and their journey to rescue their young Hyun-Seo. Hyun-Seo was separated from her father during the attack as he accidentally grabbed the wrong child’s hand while running away from the creature. The creature then gobbled Hyun-Seo into his mouth and swam away leaving the Park family to believe she was gone forever. However, the creature had never actually swallowed her but had just taken her into his layer in the sewer and spit her out.

During the after mass of the attack, all the survivors were quarantined by the Korean government and were lead to believe the creature caused a threat of virus. While being held captive Hyun-Seo’s father Gang-Doo received a phone call from Hyun-Seo and the Park family then realized she was still alive. After informing the Korean government repeatedly with no results, care or concern the Park family decided to escape to rescue Hyun-Seo themselves. They managed to break free and then began searching the sewer systems. Meanwhile the threat of the virus heightened and the government announced that the Park family were escaped fugitives on the run. The Korean government exaggerated all resources for a man hunt to capture of the Park family.

Each character in this dysfunctional family has their own distinct personality which is part of what makes this film so special. Gang-Doo is immature and childlike but clearly, is a fun loving father to Hyun-Seo. Gang-Doo is clumsy, hardly ever does or says the right thing but means well and is most likely the most enjoyable character to watch. Hyun-Seo is Gang-Doo’s young 13 year old daughter who is very intelligent, witty and brave. This brave little girl Hyun-Seo is the pivotal character that brings the whole family together while giving them hope. The grandpa, Hie-Bong is the head of household and runs the family. He feels a sense of responsibility to take charge and keep everyone on track whether it’s throughout their lives or in this tragic moment they are all going through. Nam-Ill is the brother, the smart one of the family, the college graduate who chooses drown his sorrows in alcohol instead using his knowledge. Nam-Joo, the sister, is very talented as she competes in professional archery tournaments but always seems to crack under pressure. Everyone in this family is so different from each other but they all have one thing in common…they all overcome their fears and doubts to defeat the monster and become the Protagonists of the film.

At times it can be difficult to determine the genre of the film, because several concepts of different genres are all grasped into one. This blockbuster hit incorporates the makeup of a suspenseful thriller, a comedy and a politically informant film. Even in times of sadness and despair this film had a light airy feel to it. The dynamic of the ever changing scenes fit together seamlessly from take to take. The play on emotions was so incredibly different than in most films as the scenes constantly switched back and forth from being devastating to humorous. For example, in the scene where the whole family is morning the loss of Hyun-Seo, they are crying and rolling around on the floor while arguing in a public area. Their behavior and the way they express their pain has a humorous approach to it. I believe the director did this to keep the film on a lighter note and not wanting the focus of the film to be so sad and dark.

There is harsh unsubtle political message continued throughout the film. There is a most definite dislike and a strained belief about Americans and the American government. Americans in this film are represented as careless, ruthless and ignorant. This message is shown over and over again but it is very significant in the first scene. In the first scene of this Korean film, there is an American man doing a great injustice to Korean society. He carelessly insists that his assistant dump dangerous and deadly chemicals into the Han River. From the start of the film the motive is set up perfectly to show how the Americans are to blame and that they are the Antagonists of the film.

The Korean government was also portrayed in a negative way as they were unsympathetic and almost seemed to mock Gang-Doo and his family when they were in need of help. The Korean government seemed to only care about following orders and it is ironic that the Americans came in and were allowed to take over the situation. Americans began barking orders at the Koreans but because they needed answers and protection from the virus, the Koreans followed these orders. The Korean government was represented as weak as they cowered to the Americans.

It was visually established in this film that there was a terrifying monster who fed on the lives of others but perhaps there is a concept of an unseen monster that Bong Joon-Ho projects through the creature which is the so called “Host.” Not only the Americans but also the Authoritarian government were the real monsters of the film that hid behind lies and deception.

Although the plot is very disturbing, the actual film itself is widely entertaining and the atmosphere is very much like today’s Hollywood films. The film was shot in a widescreen view to include all the destruction around the monster instead of just the monster. Several different elements were used to turn this film into reality, such as excellent special effects, stunts and a great combination of digitally enhanced audio.

It was intriguing to watch how the monster moved gracefully across the screen without effort. Even though his physical appearance was grotesque and unimaginable, when this hideous mutated monster twirled and flew around the bridge he somehow became an act of art and beauty. There were scenes edited to show slow motion, which revealed the intensity of true terror and shock of what had occurred; such as in the scene where the creature had taken Hyun-Seo and also in the scene where Hie-Bong was killed.

The water in the Han River looked so realistic having ripples and waves as the creature swam in and out of the water. The audio was set off as you could dramatically hear the sounds in this film. When the water was dripping in the sewer, it was all that I could hear and it made me feel like I was a part of the movie; like I needed to go turn a facet off. The sounds of the monster growling and grunting were startling but the slimy sounds from the creature’s skin or tongue rubbing against the people or surfaces was so gruesome that it made me cringe. Overall this film had some outrageous features that really added to the realistic feel and enjoyment of the film.

There are several messages that the director wanted to convey and I feel like this was a great film for our class to watch as we are exploring the human condition. “The Host” dealt with so many different aspects and emotions of the human condition and it reminds us of how quickly things can change. One minute life can be so routine and then something or someone can come in and shake it all up, as the monster did in this film. The Americans and the Korean government were the real monster here who devastated the community and tried to keep this family apart.

Family values was one of the main aspects of the film and how they overcame the Antagonist to stick together, even though they didn’t always see eye to eye. I think this lesson is something that we all could learn from as life is too short to take lightly. The Park family exhibited such strength as they did whatever they had to do to find Hyun-Seo, no matter what the cost. Hyun-Seo also showed so much courage and really became a hero for staying strong and protecting the little boy Se-Jin who actually survived because of her. Despite the fact that Gang-doo lost a daughter he also gained a son and an old saying rings true “Where one door closes another door will always open.”

Ebony Nava's Response

The only horror found in The Host, by Bong Joon-Ho (2006), is what humanity was allowing themselves to become. Which is pretty darn scary considering The Host can easily be interpreted as an under-the-magnifying-glass critique of our regulated beyond common sense/consuming culture.

The Host used a combo of cheap green screen horror flick special effects along with predictable film editing cuts to make what would seem to be a typical suspenseful/high action horror film. However, while the film editing and plot are run of the mill, the actors and messages shared in each shot shown in each respective scene transform this film into anything but ordinary.

From the opening scene, a theme is introduced; a theme of people doing their jobs, yet doing their jobs mindlessly, or without a say-so, more accurately. Following orders even when the task is insane. The theme continues through the film to the end, everyone is doing their job. Nothing more, yet nothing less – all the regulations are understood and followed – even disregarding common sense in order to just “do the job at hand” nothing more, nothing less. In sum: a complete apathy towards the inefficiency caused by what is seen as total efficiency.

During the course of the film the disconnectedness of humans, all the way down to the members of a family unit, is observed. Instead of communication, critiques of faults, instead of working together, working apart. The role a media saturated “convenience” culture plays into this “dynamic” is also observed. The way media is devoured yet the grand majority is of no substance – also paralleled with the way food is devoured; food that is all processed (dried noodles, canned fish, dried squid) and of little substance. Similarly, the concern for critiquing other’s lives instead of dealing with your own, always preoccupied with an attention span that is equal to that of a child’s when something meaningful is shared.

Also observed is the reliance on the television to relay orders from the government, as well as the global “USA speaks, we jump” attitude that whatever the US says better go; that the US military is here to save you – from you! The police state idea is also observed, something that seems to comes hand in hand with the disconnected culture and the religious following of orders and regulations “because it’s my job” or “because the government told me to.”

The film was also refreshingly unrealistic and/or realistic. At some times characters possessed superhuman strength, other times they possessed a healthy human fallibility but either way, both were at extremes to (in my opinion) encourage the viewer to think about the way information is typically relayed in films or to showcase the need for at least one person to think outside the box or two people to work together in order to see results.

Overall, I thought The Host was an awesome critique of the consumerist, globalized, USA USA USA, apathetic, mass, inefficient, police state that much of the world is morphing into. There is little to zero humanity or empathy between the people, no news on the tube, but it’s everyone’s destination for information about the world and how to live in it.

What the heck was the monster? I’m still unsure. Maybe it means that through our consumption we are creating a monster that will consume us all in the end. Regardless, I learned two valuable lessons from The Host: 1) Sit down and enjoy some real food/real interactions with your family, and 2) turn off the TV.

Chelsea Toth's response

Before watching this film, and not knowing very much about the plot besides the fact that it could be considered a “monster movie” left me a little uneasy, as I do not enjoy many movies associated with that combined feeling of terror and excitement. I did my best to set aside my preconceived notions of this film although I first thought it to be impossible. There is no vagueness as to how this monster originates. The opening scene is set in the year 2000, February 9th to be specific, in a U.S. Army mortuary. A conversation between one American doctor of higher ranking and a Korean doctor is displayed, and the American doctor indicates to Mr. Kim that all of the bottles of formaldehyde being stored in the mortuary are dirty due to the layers of dust that cover them and that they must be disposed of. In fact the American doctor orders Mr. Kim to dump every last bottle down the drain, which flows into the Han River. The camera then cuts to Mr. Kim in the process of following orders and then pans over the hundreds of emptied bottles. Accompanied with recognizable horror movie music in the background, it is obvious at this point in the movie that there can be no good consequences to follow from the improper disposal of these highly toxic chemicals. It is easy to assume that this is the cause of said “monster”.

This opening scene profoundly bothered me, and the only thing that would reconcile my feelings the first time viewing this film was thinking that the actions made by these doctors could never be true in real life. However, doing a little research into this film truly disturbed me when I found out there are indeed multiple references to real past events in Korean history throughout this film, some more obvious than others. One association that was easy for me to recognize later in the film was when the U.S. supplies the Korean government with an antidote invented to suppress this deadly virus that is supposedly being spread from coming into contact with the monster. The antidote is called Agent Yellow, very similar name to Agent Orange, the herbicides deployed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Other historical references shown in The Host include civilian protests against the government, a perfect example being near the end of the film when masses of people flood the banks of the Han River.

What I did not expect in this film was the amusingly compassionate tale of the struggles to be had within a dysfunctional family. The real, in the raw, human emotion exhibited by these characters pleased me, as I did not think going into this movie there would be much anything more than just fright. Overall the problems within this nuclear family helped me relate a little more to this unfamiliar culture. An unusual mix of genres to say the least, although I did enjoy some of the slapstick and satirical pleasantries during this film for the most part the ignorance of the Korean officials really frustrated me at times. The most noticeable ignorance throughout the film is that nobody believes the Park family to be true after they find out the youngest member of their family, Hyun-Seo is still alive even though the Korean government has already recorded her death along with the rest of the victims from the first monster attack. A majority of the film’s plot is centered on the disbelief of this family; heightened suspense is added throughout the movie with intense aerial and low-angled shots alongside the theatrical suspense background music over the capture of this “infected family”. Overall I believe the director, Joon-ho Bong did an impeccable job on this movie, consequently not allowing this film to reside in one particular category. The incredible CGI effects and beautifully composed plot is what I believe has brought this film such great success. This is not just your typical “monster movie”. Combined elements of environmentalism and the mockery of U.S. Army really stand out in this film; the monster is just a symbolic cover.

Kelly Battiato's response:

The Host, directed by Joon-ho-Bong, takes place on the Seoul's Han River where a mutant river monster is stirred and attacks the civilians along the shore of the Han River. Among the civilians is the Park family who owns a local snack bar along the river. Hee-Bong Park's granddaughter, Hyun-seo, is taken by the river monster and the Park family tries to save her. The Park family reminds me of a bunch of misfits in a way, there is the grandfather Hee-Bong, his dimwitted son Gang-du who is Hyun-seo's father, Nam-il is the youngest son and is a gambling alcoholic, and then Nam-joo who is an arch medalist on the national team. They all team together to get into the restricted area of the Han River after they receive a cell phone call from Hyun-seo.

I thought the cinematography was very strong in this movie, especially when the family is battling the monster. I always pay attention to the score and especially liked the music in this kind of reminded me of Jaws at first... it has the same effect as the dun dun dun dun, and then goes into the dramatic violins...I thought it was very interesting and stood out to me. I was also impressed by the special effects. I guess I was expecting it come off as more corny or cheesy, but that monster was really terrifying.

I think the director was drawing a parallel with the government in the movie not having any idea what they were doing, with how it is questionable with government (in general) if they really know what they are doing all the time and what false information they are giving the public. For example they put Gang-du through all this turmoil and tests for no reason! There really was no virus/contamination like were telling the public.

The humor in this film was very quirky which I love, I think it is my favorite kind of movie this "drama-ody" kind. In particular when everyone is at the shelter and mourning the loss of Hyun-seo, I was moved and even think I almost cried, but then they all start being over dramatic and flailing on the ground crying, and I started laughing. That is just one scene that stood out, to me. I like that the story got the viewer is invested in these flawed characters, and I also love how the director kind of emphasized these characters flaws. And at the end there was growth in all of the characters, even though sadly some of them passed away.

I think there was probably more to the film in regard to the director saying something about the Korean government and the American government...but I am not sure what exactly that is. Like he was making some kind of political statement.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie and would like to view it again.

Andy Yates' response -- credit:

Eric Acton's response -- credit:

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