The Host Turns 15
To celebrate The Host’s fifteenth anniversary, let us dive into how the Korean kaiju movie manages to create the perfect introduction to a monster.
Ever since its release in 2006, Bong Joon-ho’s monster movie masterpiece The Host remains one of the gold standards of South Korean genre films. The majority of Joon-ho’s filmography balances a mix of genres flawlessly. The Host acts like a monster movie, then family drama, political satire, and even a dark comedy all in one complex package. The Host arguably features the most engaging introduction to a monster in movie history. A bold statement for sure but Bong Joon-ho managed to craft one of the genre’s most harrowing scenes with the first attack of the film’s monster Gwoemul.
See ever since the release of other acclaimed monster films such as Jaws and Alien, almost all other filmmakers have taken one element from them when it comes to their monsters: wait. See a lot of monster movies now like to tease their creature throughout the first and even second act and wait until the plot thinks it is the right time to show off the monster in all its glory.
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This can be very effective as seen in the aforementioned Jaws and Alien, but sometimes filmmakers use this as a crux or lazy way to hide the monster when sometimes that may actually hurt the film’s pacing. Unless the suspense is one point, audiences may get frustrated with the film and simply want to see the monster.
That sentiment was shared by Bong Joon-ho, who felt the using this somewhat unsaid law of creature features won’t work in his vision for The Host. He basically tossed this idea out the window and the first act of his film is capped by an attack by the film’s mutated monster in broad daylight for a significantly lengthy monster attack.
This opening attack of the film remains one of the most horrifying scenes in monster movie cinema, so it seems appropriate to take a deep dive into why the opening of The Host works so well.
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Reveal Thy Monster
In the lead-up to the attack, the film follows a bumbling snack bar clerk Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) taking an order for local park-goers. The bar rests next to the Han River, so overall a simple day. Not too much later, Park and others see a massive “thing” hanging onto the bridge over the Han River as it plunges into the water. Already this works as it almost unceremoniously shows the creature without any dramatic music or suspenseful cinematography, the thing just appears out of the blue!
As this unknown creature swims in the water, it moves near the people at the shore and they have no clue what to even do seeing this thing, but that is until Gang-du throws a snack for the creature and it laps it up with its tongue. Assuming the creature is harmless, the people around Gang-du start throwing snacks at the creature as well to their amusement.
Again this defies both the audience and the character’s expectation as normally if a monster sees a human it would instantly attack them on sight. Here, however, it’s almost like a real creature and as such you are not on edge about the danger it should pose.
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It is then the creature swims out of sight for a few seconds, only for it to make it on land and begin its rampage. The way it is present here is that Bong Joon-ho totally takes advantage of having Gang-du as our audience surrogate as having the perspective be from his POV the creature making landfall feels sudden and jarring, thus all that comfort previously is now shattered.
This is followed by a long tracking shot of Gang-du running for his life from the monster and the creature comes in and out of the shot as it attacks various people with the score now becoming more and more prevalent to signify the threat. The CGI team behind The Host’s creature, The Orphanage, managed to make the creature look so real in the daylight as most effects artists usually prefer night scenes at it helps hide any potential imperfection of the CGI.
Instead, The Host shows off the monster in broad daylight in a very populated area on a rampage. This feels very sudden and very realistic as Bong Joon-ho intended. He wanted both our protagonist and the audience to have that whiplash-inducing horror of the suddenness of this attack.
Normally the first act of monster movies have some inciting incident with the monster but either the monster attack is offscreen, there is some element obscuring it, or it simply attacks one individual and the film would use dramatic irony as the audience would be aware of the monster and the characters would have to play catch up. In The Host, however, both the audience and Gang-du on are the same page and right now that page simply says “RUN!”
What follows is a very well-made monster attack. Gang-du would try to both avoid the creature and try to save others as seen with him teaming up with an American trying to stop the monster from eating people.
Soon the creature would capture his daughter Park Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung) who throughout the rampage we got small intercuts of her watching her aunt’s archery game with her grandfather, oblivious to the carnage at hand. But as soon as he tries to see what is going on she would end up being captured by the monster, essentially becoming the catalysts of the Park Family’s mission to rescue her and kill the monster.
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Now That Was Reveal
Fifteen years later and this scene still stands out as one of the best sequences in monster movie history. On YouTube, the scene would accumulate over five million views, and with Bong Joon-ho now having the world’s eyes on him thanks to the success of Parasite it’s a good chance more will be wowed at the ballsiness of his ability to defy conventions seen in other creature features.