Customer Review

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent Korean thriller about a toxic monster created by carelessness, August 18, 2007
This review is from: The Host (DVD)
In January of 2005, an American civilian employee at the mortuary of a U.S. military base in Seoul, South Korea, was sentenced to a six-month prison sentence for ordering subordinates to dump 227 liters of contaminated formaldehyde into a sewage drain, that flowed directly the Han River, the prime source of drinking water for the city's twelve million inhabitants. While the US military insisted there was no threat to public health, environmentalists worried that the toxic chemical would be deadly to marine life and could lead to increased incidences of cancer among humans. The case generated a great deal of local outrage including anti-American protests calling for the withdrawal of American troops.

Bong Joon-ho's critically acclaimed international hit film "The Host" begins by recreating this scene almost word for word based on news reports. While the monstrous consequences he draws from this event are straight out of the pages of comic books and science fiction films, this film is really about the true victims of such environmental carelessness: the locals, who live close to the river, and who are powerless to protect themselves and their families in the face of nameless threats they are exposed to as a result of the carelessness, shortsightedness, ineptitude and even deception of the government, military, and industry.

The film works on a number of levels, both as a family comedy and drama, a really scary freakout film and a conspiracy thriller, a showcase for ingenious use of animation, and even, I think, a serious meditation on the nature of families and especially on the role of fatherhood, but I want to focus briefly on the fact it belongs to a venerable (well, that's not exactly the right word), .... a fairly long and choppy tradition of "toxic monster" movies whose most iconic exemplar is Godzilla. The basic premise of such films is that a monster is created or awoken by human carelessness or greed manifested in the form of toxic dumping, nuclear testing, and other arrogant forms of intervention into the course of nature - and this monster goes on to terrorize the locals. The implication is, of course, that the monster is us: that human beings bring upon themselves their own destruction.

Early in the film, in response to dubious military claims regarding a new and unseen threat that compounds the danger that had emerged from the toxic depths of the Han River, the elderly Hie-bong shrugs and states that "if the government says so, we have to accept it." In the end, and after an intelligently plotted and very funny and thrilling ride, it is this complacent and passive attitude that is most challenged by this film. The filmmakers suggest that such people (i.e. all of us) are at bottom mostly concerned not about big issues but about our families, our friends, and our way of life. "The Host" is a hopeful and deeply humanistic film in its portrayal of a few people who out of love are willing to face up to environmental terrors they did not have a hand in creating. Even where we do not care for or have the capacity to understand the issues related to the "environment" in the abstract, this film suggests, it is enough that we care about each other and about the places we call home, and if enough of us care enough to refuse to be complacent with the voices telling us there is nothing to be done, we can individually and collectively make some kind of difference.
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