December 30, 2006
Joon-ho Bong's The Host recently sweeped the Korean Film Awards, following its bow at Cannes and subsequent screenings at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals. It's poised to be the next masterpiece of arthouse popcorn - but maybe an enthusiastic festival audience is a requisite in this case, because The Host that I saw was rather dull and annoying. As a monster movie, it's uninspired; the giant fish with legs may be original in theory, but looks like something right out of Del Toro's Hellboy, and it's given nothing to do but stomp around and munch on people without discrimination or animalistic logic. As a political screed, it's just idiotic; the Iraq war subtext is slathered on so heavily that I might have gagged had it not dropped in and out of the movie at random. It seems to have been inserted into the film entirely after the fact, perhaps as intellectual bait, and while there are hints of interesting social development littered throughout, the film is mostly concerned with the entirely uninvolving family whose search for a missing daughter is at the story's core. These loving misfits are too grating a group to be endearing, too bland to be involving. The only time they (and the film itself, for that matter) held my attention were in the out-of-the-blue moments of bizzaro comedy that pop up now and then. The film shifts tones pretty frequently, actually, but it's never all over the map enough to be any fun.
Perhaps it's a case of inverted expectations, or perhaps I'm just a spoil sport, but I don't understand why critics are raving about this. I love dumb fun monster movies as much as I love thoughtful genre pieces, but I think The Host fall short on both counts. Then again, I didn't care much for Oldboy either, so maybe I just haven't developed a taste for Korean cinema that isn't slow, sparse and emotionally wrenching.
Posted by David Lowery at December 30, 2006 3:27 AM
just admit it, Lowery. you hate Koreans, you racist bastard. your take actually makes sense, though i confess i had a very good time with it. but enough of Korean cinema, let's take it to Mexico. i'm dying to hear your take on CHILDREN OF MEN!
Posted by: tully at December 30, 2006 1:36 PM
I second your opinion wholeheartedly! (Except the part about Oldboy which I still haven't seen.)
Posted by: jmj at December 30, 2006 2:43 PM
You've got my number - I do love Mexico! Which was why I was so disappointed at having to dislike Babel. But hey, two out of three ain't bad - Pan's Labyrinth and Children Of Men are wonderful.
Regarding the latter, I think it's a stellar and brilliantly efficient thriller, and I love that it never really tries to be anything more than that - for in that lack of allegorical pretension, it's actually far more meaningful than it would have been had it taken the route of a diatribe. It's simply, ruthlessly, single-mindedly involving. And it's also purely humanistic, rather than duplicitously political, which means it's pretty much entirely inclusive. It's a shame Universal appears to be dumping it; it may not have the makings of a blockbuster, but it could be a moderate hit if it were given the same sort of marketing oomph that Babel is getting.
And your comparison to Werkmeister Harmonies is indeed very astute - I kept thinking while I was watching the film that this was like a Bela Tarr action movie! Actually, I wish I hadn't been looking for those much touted long-take sequences, because otherwise I probably wouldn't have even noticed them (at least not as overtly) -- they're works of extreme virtuoso, but nothing about them is as impressive as the fact that you get so caught up in them that you completely forget to look for where they cut. The film is a bag of cinematographic tricks, all of which are at the service of the story, rather than their craftsmens' egos.
Posted by: Ghostboy at December 30, 2006 6:01 PM
"I love that it never really tries to be anything more than that - for in that lack of allegorical pretension, it's actually far more meaningful than it would have been had it taken the route of a diatribe."
you are an absolute quote MACHINE. thanks for this post--i knew you would say it better than i ever could!
Posted by: tully at December 30, 2006 7:24 PM