2.5 months in Seoul, South Korea
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
"Gwoemul", or "The Host"
I'm generally not a fan of "Godzilla" monster type movies.

But with all the hype about the Korean-made movie "Gwaemul", its breaking of Korean box office records, and its international popularity at the Cannes Film Festival in France (it was called "the hottest title at this year's Cannes Film Festival"), I decided to give it a try.

It was my first time in a Korean movie theater watching a Korean movie.. no subtitles!

On the poster, the girl's screaming "Dad, save me!", as she's being taken away by the monster.

The movie starts out with a scene that made me afraid for Mark, the only Caucasian-looking guy visible in the theater. Haha. A white scientist rather bitchily orders his Korean subordinate to dump hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde into the Han River, despite environmental laws and the chemical's toxicity. As the Korean is protesting that the chemicals have health hazards, the white guy replies, "The Han River is a broad river. Let's try to have a broad mind."

In fact, the movie's attitude towards America and white English speakers in general was a bit confusing. A crazy looking white doctor later reveals to a cooperative gyopo that he is part of a plot to fool the nation of Korea.
However, besides the evil scientist and doctor, the movie also shows a heroic white man who goes against the fleeing Korean crowd and tries to fight off the gwaemul (he is later eaten). I think there is some deep political metaphor here that I am missing.

Anyway, the discarded chemicals and formaldehyde leads to the birth of a huge monster, "gwaemul". The actual gwaemul resembled a large computerized fish, and was a bit unrealistic-looking at first glance. But as the movie goes on, you begin to develop a deep dislike/fear of the monster, mostly because of the skillful animation, sound effects, and compelling plot. You'll be quite satisfied when it's finally killed.

As you can probably tell from the poster, "Gwaemul" emphasizes family, which is a a central concept in Korean culture. The movie focuses on a young schoolgirl and her father, who owns a modest snack stand. The father is rather incompetent and comical at the start of the movie, and his daughter is ashamed of him. But when the girl is snatched away by the monster, her father, grandfather, and siblings unite to look for her in the sewers of the Han River.

"Gwoemul"'s combination of moments of extreme horror or sadness with silly comic scenes is typically Korean. This is something which I found strange at first, being used to American horror flicks which are Serious Serious Serious all the way through. But the juxtaposition adds another dimension to the movie. You get a chance to catch your breath after an exciting scene. And in the end, I guess it makes the movie even scarier because you aren't expecting the horrific moments when they do finally come.

The movie doesn't fall into the pitfall of many Korean movies, that being overly maudlin and dramatic; but still definitely touches you emotionally.
The plot has plenty of twists and turns to keep you interested, and the acting somehow manages to combine humor, tragedy, and horror into one compelling production.

If you're in Korea, GO SEE GWEOMUL. And if you're not, it should be out in America around October ;)


posted by Jane @ 7:02 AM  
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Name: Jane
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