Host (The) AKA Gwoemul [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Magnolia Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak/Stevie McCleary (5th October 2007).
The Film

The events of Joon-ho Bong's "The Host" (or "Gwoemul" in Korean) are based on a true story. Well, the first bit is anyway. There was an incident in the year 2000 which saw a Korean assistant being ordered to dispose of formaldehyde into a sewer outlet leading to the Han River. It's just a pity it didn't create a giant mutant creature like in this film. Although considering how it turned out for the family in this film...maybe that was for the best.
We are introduced to a family that, for the most part, really seems to hate each other. There is the grandfather, Park Hie-bong (Byeon Hie-Bong) who runs a small food store with his somewhat mentally challenged son Gang-Du (Song Kang-ho). Gang-Du has a daughter, Hyun-Seo (Ko Ah-sung) who is seemingly killed by the monster early on. Along with some other peculiar family archetypes there's an alcoholic college graduate Uncle, Nam-il (Park Hae-il) and an Aunt, Nam-Joo (Bae Du-na) whose insecurities prevent her from being a gold medalist in Archery-they must all band together when they receive a faint call from the previously presumed dead Hyun-Seo. The family must first escape the clutches of the Government though; who believe the creature is hosting a SARS-like virus, in an attempt to travel across the city to rescue their trapped and starving Hyun-Seo. With the exception of the creature and Government subplots, this scenario would not seem out of place in a family drama. It is one of the many aspects of this film that's different and unique. The ways the characters are presented and evolve are quite original, at least to a western audience. How often do you get to say that?
The film offers little prologue to the events that unfold. There is no prolonged tease about the creature and what it is. The action and story move ahead with quick pace. And this is by no means a bad thing. What "The Host" has going for it is that it feels fresh and different. It ignores obvious clich├ęs and presents what comes across as a realistic situation given the type of chaos that this disaster would cause. The reactions of the media, the governments and the people are all handled in such a way here that makes you wonder why it hasn't been done before. In particular, the tragedy of this situation for the main family and their maddening encounters with authorities leaves you with a very real sense of dread. This is the world we live in now and we know it. Joon-ho Bong taps into every part of a disaster like this, and puts a nervous, cynical edge on the post-SARS, post-9/11 situation. Some of it hardly ever gets referenced in a movie of this sort, but by asking the simple question "What [i>would[/i> happen in this situation?" we get an original response.
The monster effects are above par and are fairly convincing. The biggest letdown is towards the end where, I believe, they had to rely on older, weaker CGI shots. Apparently this was a monetary issue, which is a shame. But apart from that the effects hold together quite well, especially considering the first incident involving the creature happens in an open area in broad daylight. Again, not a conventional tactic to use, but here it works so well.
One of the things that make the film so unique is the juxtaposition of whimsical comedy and all out horror. The bereavement scene must be seen to be believed. As is a few of the later scenes with the family trying to stay awake in a convenience store. They are both tragic and laughable-just in the good way. All of the characters throughout the film are sent on such a different journey than the normal, that you really have no idea how they will end up. This continues all the way through the piece, right up until the bittersweet coda. The fact that the film keeps its momentum going the whole way is a tremendous achievement.
"The Host" is a film that almost stands alone. It blends family drama with monster horror and is truly the movie that the American adaptation of "Godzilla" (1998) should have been. Although, who knows if they could have even made this film. It's a monster movie, it's a family drama. It's something all its own. Check it out.

Video

The packaging states this disc is region 1; however it is in fact region free.

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1 this high-definition transfer is 1080p 24/fps and has been created using VC-1 compression. The transfer manages to impress with bold and striking colors that pop, just check out the opening sequence along the Han River for a good example of the vibrancy of the colors. As the film progresses the colors darken and the transfer manages to hold that accurately with solid blacks and consistently good shadow detail. Skin tones are accurate and appear natural and the detail is brilliantly displayed, there is some minor film grain but other than that no major flaws can be seen. One note however, I felt that the high-definition nature of the transfer made the CG creature all the more fake at times, this isn't a knock at the transfer per say but it's something to be aware of. Otherwise it's an excellent image from Magnolia.

Audio

A total of six audio tracks are included on this disc, Korean uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround at 16-bit / 48kHz / 4.6 Mbps, an English dub is also included in uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround also at 16-bit / 48kHz / 4.6 Mbps. DTS-HD 5.1 High Resolution audio transferred at 1.5 Mbps is also included in both Korean and English and finally standard Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks are included in both Korean and English. I chose to view the film with its English PCM 5.1 track for this review, the result was simply awesome. It is aggressive and packs a punch that will shake the walls. Dialogue is crystal clear but the true power behind the track is in the dynamic sound effects that immerse the viewer in the action. The range is excellent ranging from subtle ambient noise to heavy and dramatic sound; furthermore the film's score adds yet another layer to this fine mix. This PCM track offers the absolute best that cinema sound has to offer and should impress.

The film also includes optional subtitles in English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Magnolia Home Entertainment has released this film as a "Collector's Edition" which includes an audio commentary, a series of ten featurettes, some deleted scenes, a gag reel, the film's theatrical trailer plus a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a close look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary with the film's co-writer/director Joon-ho Bong and film critic Tony Rayns who acts as moderator, the track is in English as the director is questioned about the film and its production process. It's not a screen-specific track but does provide a lot of cool information for fans. The director talks about the development of the film and the original idea, he also comments on the casting from the Korean cast members including a few regulars you may notice from some of his other films as well as a couple of American actors that appear in the film (primarily the scientist from the start who tells the young worker to dump the chemicals down the drain). He focuses on the characters, on why he wanted to make the film, how he came to structure the story especially in breaking some traditions of the monster genre, in this film he shows the monster pretty much from the start and in daylight also the film focuses on the family rather than a story solely revolving around the government trying to stop a rampaging beast. In a sense "The Host" is a very unconventional monster movie. He also comments on the filming process, locations and special effects tricks used to create the creature among other things.

The first section of the extras is entitled "The Making of The Host" and consists of four featurettes that include:

- "Making of the Host with Director Joon-ho Bong" runs for 9 minutes 43 seconds, in this clip the director takes us through the early production of the film including where the idea came from, the real life event of dumping chemicals into the river as an influence as well as the film "Signs" (2002) which focuses on the family, we are also given insight into the writing process, the research conducted by the writers, the development of the characters and plot as well as choosing locations during the writing process and also in getting the picture financed. The clip also includes various crew members such as the co-writers, producers etc.

- "Storyboards" is next and runs for 3 minutes 21 seconds and is simply a series of storyboards created for the film cut together in a reel and set to music and sound from the film.

- "Physical Special Effects" runs for 5 minutes 4 seconds and takes a closer look at the preparation and execution of the practical in-camera effects such as water splashing that the creature makes, the damaging of objects the creature makes contact with such as cars and trucks as well as the mouth rig made for spitting out people.

- "Memories of the Sewer" runs for 9 minutes 42 seconds, some of this film takes place in damp and dark sewers, these sewers were actual locations rather than elaborate sets. The cast and crew actually shot in these locations. The cast and crew share their experience in working there, having to get inoculated for diseases as they were working right along side a bunch of creepy crawly things such as rats and all kinds of insects. They recall the smell and what it was like shooting in those confined, often dark and grimy sewers.

The next section is entitled "The Creature" and features four featurettes that include:

- "Designing the Creature" which runs for 11 minutes 21 seconds and is a complete look the designing of the creature, starting from scratch and initially developing the look with the director as well as what it would look like in a watery environment. The clip focuses on the research that went into the design, on collaborating with the director as we see the various concepts created for the film.

- "Animating the Creature" runs for 9 minutes 39 seconds and is a series of progressions from animatics to finished shot for some of the more effects heavy scenes, we get a sense of the various layers applied to the film until its final shot.

- "Puppet Animatronics" runs for 7 minutes 18 seconds, for the close-ups of the creature a practical puppet was created, this clip looks at the development, design and implementation of the giant creature on the set.

- "Bringing the Creature to Life" runs for 20 minutes 50 seconds and looks at the year long digital design process and developing the creature initially with WETA Digital in New Zealand but ultimately the producers worked with another company, The Orphanage mainly because it was more cost effective to create the digital effects in the U.S. The clip takes us through the #-D modeling as well as some of the shooting and references and marks used to indicate where the creature is onscreen for the post-effects crew as well as blending in all the elements together into what audiences see in the final version of the film.

Next section is entitled "The Cast" and features two featurettes that include:

- "The Family: Main Cast Interviews" which runs for 3 minutes 42 seconds and features Byeon Hie-Bong, Song Kang-ho, Park Hae-il, Bae Du-na and Ko Ah-sung as they introduce themselves and talk about what characters they play in he film, that's really it. It would have been great to delve deeper into the interpretations of the characters and how they played them as well as motivations but alas that was not included in this clip.

- "Training the Actors" runs for 5 minutes 24 seconds and takes a look at the archery lessons Bae Du-na had to take and also looks at gun training with the male cast members as they attempt to shoot clay pigeons.

A gag reel follows and runs for 7 minutes 39 seconds and includes a series of funny CGI shots and the cast having fun at a Q&A session.

A series of deleted scenes is presented in a reel that runs for 8 minutes 6 seconds and includes footage of a wedding photo being taken on the bank of the Han river, a man telling his friend about seeing a dark figure under a bridge at night, the doctors at the quarantine center talk about there not actually being a virus which Gang-Du overhears, an extended version of the epilogue ending, plus more footage of the creature in the sewers and at its lair as well as Gang-Du pursuing the creature and facing of with it.

Also included on this disc is the original Korean theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 36 seconds.

Rounding out the extras are some bonus trailers for:

- "The Lost City" which runs for 2 minutes 15 seconds.
- "District B13" which runs for 1 minute 46 seconds.
- "The World's Fastest Indian" which runs for 2 minutes
- "HDNet" promo spot which runs for 31 seconds.

Overall


This film has been reviewed by Stevie McCleary he DVD specifications and extras have been reviewed by Noor Razzak.

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: A+ Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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