If there is one thing everybody loves, it’s a great monster film. And if there is one sort of person I can’t stand, it’s someone who doesn’t love great monster films.
But if you aren’t someone who watches movies all day every day, like me, you may be operating under the misconception that America has the market cornered on spectacular creature features. As it turns out, the firmament of world cinema is littered with shining monsters of all shapes and sizes. Thanks to Netflix’s Watch Instantly service, you can expose yourself to nearly the entire international gamut of monster movies. We hope you’ll consider one such foreign monster movie: Korea’s The Host from 2006.
Who Made It: The Host was directed Bong Joon-ho. Along with this fantastic creature feature, Bong Joon-ho also gave us a deeply moving serial killer thriller in 2003’s Memories of Murder. He is also apparently directing a sequel to The Host, which is currently in some phase of production.
Who’s In It: I won’t delve into the entire cast, mostly because I would be in danger of multiple, multiple spelling errors with their names. But I do want to mention the star of the film Kang-ho Song. This guy’s resume reads like a Must See List of some of the best Korean cinema has had to offer over the last decade. He’s been featured in Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance, and Thirst as well as Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder and Jee-woon Kim’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird. All films exceedingly worthy of your time.
What’s It About: A batch of long-expired formaldehyde dumped into Seoul’s water supply gives birth to a mutated amphibious create that wreaks havoc upon those living alongside the Han River. When the creature abducts a young girl, her family, (who at first believed her to be dead) sets out on a dangerous mission to bring her home.
Why You Should Watch It:
The Host is an exemplary monster movie on a number of levels, not the least of which being the design of the monster itself. The decision to make it amphibian as opposed to a simply water-dwelling beast immediately ratchets up the terror. It’s one thing to create a reason not to go in the water, but it’s an entirely new ball game when you are no longer safe on dry land. What we end up with is something sort of like a giant salamander/fish hybrid with more appendages than we can count and a prehensile tail, and yet it moves like a great cat when on land. Its eyes are nearly impossible to identify, something that always creates a sense of dread, and its mouth seems to harbor endless compartments of sharp teeth. Basically, not at all something you would want to see tooling around your neighborhood.
The catalytic scene, in which the presence of the beast is revealed, is one of the most jaw-dropping sequences in all of horrordom. Spectators gather to observe a mysterious pod hanging from under a bridge. The pod them drops into the water and what follows is a symphony of carnage and death. The way Bong Joon-ho shoots the sequence, largely from our hero’s point of view as he flees for his life, creates some stunning imagery that serves the dual purpose of creating tension and withholding enough direct exposure to not allow the computer-generated graphics to be so overt. This sequence powerfully asserts the film’s tone and serves as an appetizer for its boldness—even innocent people are torn to shreds.
Despite all the terror, the violent thrashing of claws and gnashing of teeth, The Host’s true power is in its undeniable amount of heart. The pain and anguish of the family of the stolen girl is deeply affecting and yields to a measured amount of bittersweet comedy as they struggle valiantly against their own monster-hunting ineptitude to reclaim her. The relationship between that little girl and an even younger boy she meets in the monster’s lair not only makes for some edge-of-your-seat plot devices, but also furthers the tear-jerking sense of sentimentality and the film’s overall message of love’s ability to conquer all.
Captain America star Chris Evans is in talks to join the cast of Snow Piercer, the latest project from Bong Joon-ho, director of the Korean sci-fi sensation The Host, Variety reports. The film, which Joon-ho conceived with Oldboy director Park Chan-wook, is set "a world covered in snow and ice" and follows "a train full of travelers who struggle to co-exist." Evans, presumably, will play one of the travelers. Either that or the train.
Snow Piercer is slated to begin shooting in March. Chris Evans can next be seen in Marvel's The Avengers, which opens May 4, 2012.
When considering the cinematic landscape of our tiny blue planet, or the international movie food court if you prefer that metaphor, Korea has proven itself time and time again to be a stellar standout. This week, Magnet released I Saw the Devil on Blu-ray. As I Saw the Devil was one of my favorite films both of last year’s Fantastic Fest and of last year in general and whereas Magnet seems satisfied combing through Fantastic Fest and making available superb releases of some of its most memorable features, this event has elevated my joy quotient in no meager fashion. I Saw the Devil is a twisted, beautiful, bitterly honest nightmare and watching it again sent me spiraling down memory lane and reflecting on my favorite Korean films of the last few years.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird
Few things have surprised and delighted me more than witnessing a decidedly eastern seasoning lavished upon a classic western. I Saw the Devil director Kim Jee-woon first entered my radar screen with this incredibly ambitious remake of Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly set in Manchuria in the 1940’s. Boasting phenomenal performances from its titular trio and cinematography that redefines gorgeous, the film is simply a delight for the senses. But what really allows The Good The Bad The Weird to blaze a trail all its own is its absolutely insane action sequences. The chase wherein one of our heroes looks up suddenly and realizes the entire Japanese army is on his tail defies written summation and demands to be viewed. The infusion of flawless comedic timing tenders a unique new spin while the Morricone-inspired score feels comfortably familiar.
From a film by the same director as I Saw the Devil to a film with very similar themes, the finale of Park Chan-wook’s vengeance trilogy is quite possibly my favorite. Far be it from me to knock Oldboy, a film that deserves every bit of praise it has garnered from critics far smarter than I, but something about the especially cold, calculating plot of Lady Vengeance makes me cringe just reminiscing about it. The film’s climactic sequence, from whence its similarity to I Saw the Devil is chiefly derived, is among the most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking scenes in all of modern cinema. The exploration of the capacity for upstanding, decent people to corrupt their sense of right and wrong in the name of revenge is a theme elegantly delved into in both this film and I Saw the Devil.
I promise I don’t just watch movies about folks offing one another, but Korea’s demonstrated adeptness at handling the subject is hard to ignore. The Chaser is the story of a detective who, while in a financial bind, investigates the lucrative opportunities offered by moonlighting as a pimp. But when his girls develop the nasty habit of disappearing without a trace, his police instincts, slanted toward dirty cop as they may be, take over and find him tirelessly tracking down a ruthless killer. The violence in The Chaser may be extreme, but in a feat of filmmaking genius, it gets almost entirely subverted by captivating performances and pulse-raising suspense. The narrowing of good and evil to the two leads of The Chaser echoes the intimate, brutal conflict between the agent and the killer in I Saw the Devil. True to its name, the film also has an amazing foot chase that is impressive in its sheer simplicity.
Oh that’s right, there are Asian monster movies that don’t feature Godzilla. Bong Joon-ho weaves this cautionary tale that should forever curb your desire to pour copious amounts of expired formaldehyde into the water supply. The design of the creature and the intricacies of its movement are breath taking. The Host has terrifying elements that more than qualify it as a horror film, but its deeply moving familial character relationships engender the film with so much heart and make for a bittersweet creature feature. If you enjoy The Host, I would also highly recommend Bong Joon-ho’s likewise spell-binding, if noticeably smaller-scale, Memories of Murder.
The movie, which chronicles a mother's struggle to prove her mentally-challenged son's innocence against allegations of murder, won veteran star Kim Hye-ja the Best Actress accolade, while director Bong Joon-ho and co-writer Park Eun-kyo landed Best Screenplay.
Chinese filmmaker Lu Chuan was named Best Director for City of Life and Death, while Wang Xueqi took home the Best Actor award for his role in Bodyguards and Assassins.
Director Zhang Yimou was hailed for his outstanding contribution to Asian Cinema, while action man John Woo was handed the prize for top-grossing film director of 2009 for Red Cliff, and Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan was presented with a lifetime achievement honour.