Over a decade before Parasite earned him near universal critical acclaim and made him top contender for Best Foreign Language Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho dazzled kaiju fans with The Host, a lean, mean creature feature that combines bittersweet family drama, rapid-fire slapstick comedy, and biting political satire into an absolutely unforgettable cinematic experience.
The movie immediately establishes its sly sense of humor in the opening scene, when an old, curmudgeonly (and pointedly Caucasian) lab technician forces his meek assistant to dump an enormous volume of chemical waste into the sink (and, consequently, into the nearby river)… simply because the bottles are too dusty for his liking. From there, Bong deftly and gracefully juggles various tones. During the monster’s initial attack, for example, the audience might chuckle when our bumbling protagonist accidentally grabs the wrong schoolgirl’s hand while attempting to flee with his teenage daughter… but that laughter quickly turns to tears when she’s abruptly snatched up by the beast. Later, a pompous government official (clad in a ridiculously oversized hazmat suit) swaggers into the school gymnasium where the survivors of the rampage are being quarantined… and promptly falls flat on his face; when the crowd angrily demands an explanation for why they’re being detained, he sheepishly turns on the television, hoping that the news will deliver some convenient exposition… but, to his dismay, finds only commercials.
Even the somewhat dated CGI can’t diminish the impact of Bong’s masterful storytelling. Considering the genre, the stakes—the life of a single child—are remarkably modest, and the most significant obstacle our heroes face is bureaucratic red tape. This small scale works to the film’s advantage, making it feel more intimate, personal, and suspenseful—every setback is utterly catastrophic… and every victory all the sweeter. I sincerely hope that Bong takes home the Oscar for Parasite, but let’s be honest: between Memories of Murder and The Host, such recognition is long overdue.