...because sometimes it's just a big-ass tadpole that got all high on embalming fluid and started eating people and shit...
A minor segment of American film fans have finally, in the past few years, been slobbering all over the nutsack of Asian cinema, in particular Hong Kong action flicks and Korean horror. It's a well-deserved hummer. From the action/horror one-two punch of Oldboy to the hilarious Kung Fu Hustle, Asian cinema often takes chances, particularly when it comes to horror (the gruesome climax of Audition comes to mind).
American directors have been suckling at the teat of Asian cinema for years now. The original director of Ringu - even though I'm sure he got his in royalties and what-not - had to be pissed to see The Ring blow up in the U.S. when his version was better, gorier and scarier. And in his [admittedly overdue and long-deserved] Oscar acceptance speech, I don't remember Marty Scorsese thanking the directors of Internal Affairs, which was just as good as The Departed but was missing an all-star American cast.
And while all the films above deserved the praise they received, all of the American critics jumping on the "Host" bandwagon are catching their ride a little too late.
I initially read a review of it as a short blurb in Rolling Stone's movie section, and Peter Travers said much the same as I did above, basically "See this version now before an American director co-opts it and ruins it" (which, incidentally, is happening as we speak).
So I threw it on the Netflix list and it finally came this past weekend. And, uhh... not so much.
The plotline, on the surface, seems intriguing: an American military officer orders a subordinate to dump hundreds of gallons of formaldehyde down the drain and, consequently, into South Korea's Han River (this actually happened back in the day).
What didn't actually happen is a giant carnivorous tadpole doing a double-gainer out of the river to eat and kidnap people. But still, cool premise. American military carelessness creates a monster, very Godzilla, and it's one of the first monster movies in quite a while to make anti-American political commentary. Certainly the first since 9/11.
But the execution leaves quite a bit to be desired. Granted, I should have watched it in the original Korean with English subtitles, but my fiancee hates that, and for this one I decided to let her have her way. Not that it made much of a difference. The monster is revealed way too early, a lot of the scenes that are supposed to be serious, I found myself laughing at, and by the time it was over I was just generally pretty bored.
Admittedly, I'm not the biggest fan of a concept a lot of Asian horror flicks utilize, "the violence of silence." You know, no music, very little ambient background noise, just something creepy on the screen and several seconds of quiet. Sometimes it works really well, and sometimes not, and I can see how it wouldn't translate quite as well to American audiences that are used to Kevin Smith's rapid-fire dialogue and slam-bang action movies. But the problem with The Host is that it's just not very good. You're not going to scare me with a giant carnivorous tadpole high on embalming fluid that kidnaps little Korean girls. And ESPECIALLY not with a U.S. military doctor played by the cross-eyed bug scientist from Silence of the Lambs.
No, sir. I laugh at that.
There are a few "gotcha" moments with the monster in The Host, and the story of the family at the film's center is touching at times, but the critic who put it on par with Jaws should be strung up by his testicles. He's licking the wrong Asian nutsack.