Review: 'The Host' is a monster hit 

Take it from somebody whose enjoyment of monster movies is confined to the "Men in Black" type spoofs of the genre: "The Host" ("Gwoemul"), a new monster flick from Korea, is a 3 ½-star sensation, mostly because it’s about people.

It is obvious that if you are over the age of 15, and know only that this is a kind of "Godzilla" revival, you would give it wide berth. Reconsider. Never judge a book by its cover, never bypass a film because of its subject.


We recommend . . .

Dinner: Borobudur, 700 Post St., San Francisco, (415) 775-1512 or  

Movie: The Host, One Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, (415) 267-4893; get tickets online at

If you enjoyed "Babel" because it’s four movies in one, imagine the delight of the seven-layered "Host." No kidding: Where the International Movie Database ( normally uses one term to define the genre, here’s what it says about "Host" — "action, comedy, drama, fantasy, horror, sci-fi, thriller." It’s all true, in spades. "Host" is suspenseful, funny, emotionally involving, scary and great good fun.

Bong Joon-ho is the director, already familiar to (some) American audiences because of his thriller, "Memories of Murder," and the black comedy "Barking Dogs Never Bite." In "Host," he produced a seamless work. Not quite on the order of the mature excellence of Im Kwon-taek, the intensity of Bae Chang-ho or the stunning originality of Kim Ki-duk, Bong’s work is a noteworthy accomplishment nonetheless.

It begins with a quick slap at Korea’s American friends (in the manner of the original "Godzilla") as a U.S. Army base official orders the dumping of a lot of formaldehyde in the river. Does a monster emerge? Not yet. First, we meet a family, quirky, feudin’-but-lovin’, interesting, all real. And then, the monster shows up, and it’s about to have a good close-up, when a piercing scream curdles the blood ... but wait! it’s somebody watching a sports event on TV. The director is toying with the audience, and the audience laughs. But not for long.

Soon, you will meet the monster, and it’s love at first sight.A walking fish, a squid-like dinosaur, The Thing is both deadly and endearingly awkward. And it comes from San Francisco — not according to the plot, but in real life. Here, in the current special effects center of the world, the Orphanage is the new kid on the block, near Pixar, DreamWorks and George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic. Founded by three ILM alumni, the Orphanage is making a monster big-time debut with "Host."

But the monster is not just a rampaging, nasty brute. It’s host to some new deadly virus, a SARS-plus kind of global disaster — maybe, maybe not. The state security forces do their own monsterly stuff. But our quirky family of ordinary heroes is on the march, fighting bad guys and bad monsters. And so the movie begins. Have fun.

The Host


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

Written by: Bong Joon-ho, Hah Joon-won, Baek Chul-hyun

Directed by: Bong Joon-ho

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

Get all of our latest recommendations and read the full reviews at San Francisco: Dinner and a Movie.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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