Sunday, May 27, 2007

Gwoemul (The Host)

This is the last movie that I saw at the Film fest this year, and I've finally gotten around to reviewing it. Gwoemul is a recent Korean monster movie in the classic vein of Godzilla. It takes an interesting approach on the monster genre, creating an almost satirical spin on it. While watching the movie, I was inclined to describe it as Godzilla meets Dr. Strangelove. This was at leas for the first half of the movie. The second half, on the other hand, descended into a stereotypical monster flick.

There is not much depth to Gwoemul. The opening is based on an actual event in which an American army doctor poured hundreds of bottles of chemicals into the Han River. As a result, the movie contains some fairly blatent anti-American sentiment- with all the American characters being portrated as incompetent, and forceful. The story is simple enough: as a result of the aforementioned dumping, a creature has emerged from the Han River and begins to terrorize Seoul. (Excuse me during the next section, I'm going to try to get the names right). The monster captures Park Hyun-seo, the pre-teen daughter of Park Gang-Du, and granddaughter of Park Hie-bong. The two of them, along with Gang-du's brother and sister Park Nam-il and Park Nam-Joo, set off to rescue her. (whew).

In the first attack Gang-Du came into contact with the creature, and as a result, is taken into quarantine because of the fear that he is now carrying a disease (hence the name). These parts are where the Dr. Strangelove comparison comes into play. The doctors don't find the disease in any of the others victims, so by process of elimination, it must be in Gang-Du. When they don't find it in tests they conduct on him, they conclude that it must be in his brain. Of course, never during any of this do they even consider the possibility that there is no diesease.

There are some genuinely funny moments between the family members, with Gang-Du being a generally all around screw-up, even in these disasterous situations. In one absurd moment, there is a memorial service for Hyun-seo, and in their berevment, they start physically fighting with each other, rolling around on the floor of a refugee center, just in time for a camera crew to film it all. Absurd moments like these are what gave this movie some enjoyment.

Unfortunately, half way through the movie, when the family is out into the quarantined area looking for Hyun-seo, the movie dissolves into a standard monster movie. The funny charm of the first half falls by the way-side. Unlike most monster movies, however, it doesn't feature the monster a lot. It is almost more thrilling seeing only parts of it lurking in the dark. When the monster is shown, however, it runs the gambit from looking great, to just looking hokey. These visual effects are courtesy of Orphanage, and Weta Workshop (Peter Jackson's effects company).

The movie is a decent monster movie, one of the better ones I have seen in a long time. It's nothing more than this, however. It's still just a monster movie, but a fun one.


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