There’s a strange phenomenon, amongst the fraternity of western film critics, that I just can’t get my head around. Whenever a big dumb genre picture is released by one of the major US studios, critics have to take a number and wait their turn to lambaste it. But, when an equally dumb genre picture emanates from a non-English speaking country the very same critics shovel praise on it as if they have shares in the production company that made it.
Like the confusing Russian action/horror picture Nightwatch and the cheesy overblown Hong Kong CG fest Kung Fu Hussle, we now have the listless Korean creature feature The Host to add to the collection of bad genre films that are well received in the west seemingly because they are not from the west.
By any objective measure The Host is an underwhelming film. Whilst the impressive opening scenes promise an interesting adventure, it all too soon becomes bogged down in an unsuspenseful and tiresomely slow moving story about a dysfunctional family caught up in the hysteria that results when a big nasty computer generated tadpole emerges from Seoul’s Han river and starts eating people.
Films like this can be a blast if the director gets the tone right. Tremors and Lake Placid are prime examples of how this sort of thing should be done. Unfortunately, the tone of the The Host is all over the shop. Director Joon-Ho Bong just doesn’t seem to know what kind of film he’s making, and the end result is an overly long film that doesn’t really work on any level. It’s never scary. It’s not dramatically satisfying. It’s never very funny (in fact, some of the physical comedy is embarrassingly lame), and it spends so much time just spinning its wheels it doesn’t satisfy as an adventure story either.
The film's none too subtle anti-American references are understandable given the way in which successive US governments have treated South Korea in the past, but these references are not terribly clever, and are somewhat ironic given that the film’s producers required the services of a US effects company to create The Host.