Gwoemul (Korean, 2006) The title means “Monster” in Korean, but instead of a literal translation the distributors decided to re-name it The Host, which pretty much sucks. I guess the idea, on the surface, is that the creature is supposed to be the host of a deadly virus. It’s not, that’s all a phony tactic cooked up to keep people more scared than they need to be. (Sound familiar?) The movie was a monster hit, so to speak, in Korea, and well-reviewed here as well, and I think the reason for its success in its home country was something that is always there in the sub-text: Americans, Go Home! This creature was created by Americans with callous disregard for Koreans, and the mission to find it and kill it is botched by Americans, while Korean authorities watch placidly.
It makes me sad. The Koreans have every reason to gripe, we’ve been there forever, and show no signs of leaving. In a sense, America has never stopped fighting since the end of WWII. There have been lulls, but once Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex (which the general was against) really got rolling, there was no stopping it. We moved seamlessly into the Cold War, and have been arming ourselves ever since. Now we have to look for excuses to fight, and we keep finding them, and we will keep finding them, as long as the Pentagon keeps its insatiable appetite for more contracts, more money, more things to keep the generals busy and living the lifestyle to which they’ve grown more than accustomed. So we stay on in Europe, we stay on in Okinawa, we have bases all over the world, and they gobble money and, from time to time, young men and women.
There used to be a day (still is, I guess) when if you needed an all-purpose villain, you just sewed a swastika to his sleeve. Nobody would protest (nor should they). Today, we’re depressingly close to the point where, for much of the world, the stars and stripes could replace the Nazi symbol and everybody would pretty much agree. Who appointed us the police force of the world? We did, I guess, in our overmastering fear, our cowardly refusal to take our proper place among nations, our unwavering determination to dominate the globe in a way no empire has done before.
Okay, enough political stuff. How was the movie? A bit of a let-down. The monster stuff was very good. It violates Varley’s Prime Rule of Horror, but gets away with it. That is, it shows the monster right up front, very early on, unlike the two scariest monster movies ever made: Alien, and Jaws. But it’s not really out to horrify in that way. It amazes by the casual way it shows the critter—an abomination from the depths, that seems to have been cobbled together from parts of various amphibians—more or less like a news camera or even a cell phone camera might capture it. A glimpse of a tail writhing here, the creature galumphing around in the distant background, tossing people left and right. It’s very effective.
The story is less so. A family of likeable losers is trying to get their little child back, after she was picked up by the creature and stored away in a sewer “for later.” But about halfway through it became hard to understand just what was happening, and by the end it had lost me.