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The Host is a movie about monsters in the same way that The Goonies is a movie about treasure maps—that is to say that the presence of the monster mostly serves as a way to lead us through the emotional landscape of the lives of our heroes.
In this case, rather than a bunch of misfit friends, we have a misfit family. There’s the Olympic archer who failed to earn gold because she couldn’t bring herself to let go in time. There’s the young man who sacrificed his youth in the protests that led to the democratization of South Korea and now mopes about mostly unemployed and bitter. There’s the father stupid and hopeless with everything except his love for his daughter—he collects change (stolen from his father’s food stand) in a ramen cup, in the hopes of one day having enough to buy her a new phone. I think deep down he knows it will never be enough. I think deep down she knows that he loves her more than anything and that this is more than enough.
When the monster steals the daughter away, the entire family gives chase in a determined, if hopeless, sort of way that reminded me of Little Miss Sunshine. But, you know, with a higher proportion of dismemberment and an even more overt political commentary. The monster is born from an American ordering a Korean to dump toxic chemicals into the Han river. The monster at the heart of the film, you see, is the literal product of the polluting presence of American power. It’s not all fun and games and tentacles. There’s something for everyone.
In the end, all of the family’s dysfunctions aid in the fight against the monster. Archery. Protest. A stupid amount of love. The film ends on a note of melancholy, though, that would be almost impossible to imagine in films like The Goonies or Little Miss Sunshine. That is only one of the reasons why I love it so much.
You can read more about such reasons, and also how watching this movie led to me moving to South Korea, in a short essay I wrote for Volume H of Shelf Heroes. It’s out this month and available online and in shops like MagCulture or the BFI. I’ll post an excerpt a bit later on, readers.