Tadpole Terrorist 

South Korean creature-feature mixes comedy and commentary with its thrills.

South Korean director Bong Joon-ho's The Host (already that national cinema's all-time box-office champ) emerged at the Cannes Film Festival last year and has recently been making its way through U.S. theaters. As it does so, it provides a much-needed counterpoint to the recent spate of low-budget Hollywood horror flicks that have cluttered multiplexes in recent years. Rather than mixing gratuitous gore with deafening pop songs, here's an imaginative creature-feature that mixes chills and thrills with comedy, social commentary, and bright blasts of cartoonish pop energy.

Slimy, silly, and often downright anarchic, this tale of a mutated sea monster that emerges from the Han River to terrorize Seoul is like a Mad magazine version of a horror movie, but it's not quite a spoof. Instead, Bong commits to all his shifting tones. The slapstick, family warmth, raw fear, and barely submerged geopolitical critique are all equally embraced.

The Host opens in the year 2000 in the morgue of a U.S. Army base in South Korea as an American officer orders his Korean underling to dump gallons of toxic chemicals down the drain and, ultimately, into the Han River. Seven years later, the result is a giant mutated sea creature -- a heaving monster tadpole with teeth and legs -- spotted hanging like a possum from the Han River Bridge.

When the creature drops into the water, people rush to the banks of the river and, like children at the zoo, toss fast food and other debris into the water to "feed" the beast, which instead decides there are better dining options on land. This is the comic-horror high point of the movie, as the creature gallops clumsily through the city park in broad daylight, chomping at fleeing onlookers.

This sudden attack draws the film's human protagonists -- the riverside squid-shack-operating Park clan -- into the mix. There's an aging patriarch, suffering the indignity of his two deadbeat sons -- one lazy, the other a bitter alcoholic. A daughter is an Olympic archer whose delayed release keeps her from greatness. The little miss sunshine of this dysfunctional family is the grade-schooler Hyun-seo, daughter of the lazy son.

Hyun-seo and her dad end up in the middle of the creature's attack, with Hyun-seo abducted after her father grabs the wrong schoolgirl in the middle of a mob scene.

With Hyun-seo thought dead, the family goes into mourning, only to have her reappear via a cell-phone call from a sewer dungeon. With a mission to save their youngest family member, the Park clan breaks out of quarantine (the U.S. Army and South Korean government claim the creature hosts a deadly virus) and heads back to the Han to hunt for Hyun-seo. (And, really, how much better would Little Miss Sunshine have been if the family had had to combat a giant killer tadpole?)

As the Park clan embarks on this dangerous adventure, the authorities seem more concerned with tracking them than capturing or killing the monster itself. With the U.S. Army set to unleash an "Agent Yellow" chemical to stop a virus that may not exist and combat a threat of its own making, The Host is one long eyeball roll at American hubris and its impact on the Second World nations that "host" it. In this way, The Host is nothing if not an update of the most evocative Cold War monster movies. It's worthy of the company.

The Host

Opening Friday, March 30th

Studio on the Square

Speaking of...


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

    • The Florida Project

      Orlando grifters live on the edge in director Sean Baker’s follow up to Tangerine.
    • Blade Runner 2049

      A science fiction masterpiece with an Elvis cameo
    • American Made

      Tom Cruise is at his best playing wily Arkansan drug smuggler Bobby Seal.


Beyond the Arc

Grizzlies 111, Warriors 101: Five Thoughts

Fly On The Wall Blog

A Post About Gluten Free Strippers and Effing Traffic

Music Blog

A Week's Tribute to Jimmie Lunceford

News Blog

MATA Proposes to End Ikea Route, Alter Others

Beyond the Arc

Beyond the Arc Podcast #84: The Dillon Brooks Era

Tiger Blue

#25 Memphis 42, Houston 38

Music Blog

Butthole Surfers and Bad Seeds Salute the Man in Black

Music Blog

Soulsville USA Festival Lights Up McLemore Ave.


More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • A Bigger Splash

    Tilda Swinton and Ray Finnes deal with First World Problems
    • Jun 1, 2016
  • Outflix Film Festival 2017

    The Homegrown Festival Marks Twenty years of Bringing LBGTQ Films To The Mid-South
    • Sep 7, 2017
  • Maggie’s Plan

    Comedy perfection from director Rebecca Miller
    • Jun 17, 2016
© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation